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PM to address nation tonight

Published: 
Wednesday, January 11, 2017
Prime Minister Keith Rowley

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley is due to address the nation tonight at eight o’clock, and sources close to the Government confirm that the main focus of the address will be on the industrial relations climate with specific reference to the agreement arrived at with the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union to avert a strike at the State-owned oil and gas company Petrotrin.

On Monday, following a marathon 30-hour meeting involving the union and the company with Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus and a team from her ministry, an agreement was hammered out to avert the strike. The settlement was for five per cent, three per cent for the first year and two per cent for the second year.

The remainder of the negotiation for the bargaining period is to be decided at the Industrial Court.

The five per cent agreement according to Petrotrin president Fitzroy Harewood would cost the company $80 million while Harewood admitted that it was less than the company anticipated, there is still a concern that it is more than the country far less the company could afford. The new salary structure is to be paid “immediately at the next payroll cycle.”

Conciliation for the remainder of the negotiating period would continue at the Industrial Court to be completed on or before February 28.

Government sources told the T&T Guardian there is a concern that when that settlement is arrived at it would further push up costs at the already financially strapped state oil company.

But there is also a concern about the cost of the back-pay for the workers which it is feared would cost the company tens of millions of dollars. The Memorandum of Agreement signed by the Company and the Union on Monday states that back pay will be paid over a mutually agreed period and will be based on agreed production and performance triggers to be determined and agreed upon.

Government, a spokesman said, virtually had its back against the wall to settle the negotiation in the face of the proposed strike which would have crippled the country. For two reasons: one is that the International rating agency Moody’s will be in the country in the next few weeks and it would have been bad to have the country’s major state enterprise on a strike. “It could have meant another downgrade for Petrotrin,” we were told. In May this year Moody’s downgraded Petrotrin’s rating from Ba1- to Ba3.

The other reason is that Government had little room to bargain since the OWTU led by Ancel Roget was playing hard ball, insisting that the company settle or face a strike.

The union also put forward a number of suggestions to make the company viable, insisting that Petrotrin was being badly run and it was too “top heavy.” The union has also suggested that government should conduct a forensic audit of the company for the period 2010-2015.

It blamed the management for the state of the company and while there has been speculation that there would be a shake-up at the company, but sources say it is “hardly likely’ that the Prime Minister would address that issue.

What the Prime Minister would be doing, a source said, will be “laying the cards on the table,” this negotiation and the strike which would have emanated from it according to sources was not of the making of the current administration but came about because of the former Peoples Partnership government which had a zero offer on the table even though the financial fortunes of the country at the time when the negotiation began was better than it is now.

The Government, a source said, is of the view that the former government acted in a “vindictive” manner towards the OWTU which had been raising concerns about issues of corruption and the relationship which the then government had with the labour affiliated Movement for Social Justice was broken.

The Prime Minister is also expected to address the economic situation in the country.

Asked about the crime issue, Government sources confirm that while there is national concern about crime and the efforts being made to address the problem, the Prime Minister had spoken to the issue following the Cabinet retreat. He noted then that the country’s best response to the criminal element is to have a well-organised and well-equipped police service. Dr Rowley identified one of the major failings of the police service as the inability to get on top of crime, which he said was reflected in low rates of detection and lack of crime suppression.

Rowley announced the appointment of a committee of eight individuals headed by Professor Ramesh Deosaran to conduct a manpower audit of the Police Service. The committee is expected to report on its findings on March 31st.