Petrotrin has been given the green light to resume terminating its workers in its bid to close its operations by the end of next month.
Around 11.32 pm on Wednesday night, Appeal Court Judge Charmaine Pemberton granted the cash-strapped State company a stay of an injunction granted by the Industrial Court to the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) on Monday afternoon. The decision followed a marathon hearing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain which lasted well over eight hours.
Pemberton delivered an oral decision and is expected to provide written reasons to the parties by next Monday.
The stay means that the injunction will have no effect unless the union is able to convince a full panel of Appeal Court Judges the Industrial Court was justified in granting it at the hearing of Petrotrin’s substantive appeal scheduled for next Thursday.
The company had already begun to issue termination letters and offering voluntary separation to some workers when the injunction was granted. It resumed that activity yesterday and will continue today.
In its notice of appeal, Petrotrin raised 15 grounds as it challenged seven legal findings made by the Industrial Court.
The company’s attorneys are claiming the Industrial Court had no jurisdiction, as the industrial relations offence complaint filed by the union is a criminal offence that does not lend itself to injunctive relief. It is also claiming the court erred when it ruled the company had a duty to consult with the union. The company is also contending the court failed to fully consider its and the Office of the Attorney General’s evidence over the impact of Petrotrin on the national economy.
The company had initially applied for the stay immediately after the Industrial Court’s ruling but was refused by the same panel of Industrial Court Judges who granted the injunction.
In its submissions, the AG’s Office is relying on an affidavit provided by the permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance Vishnu Dhanpaul.
In the affidavit, Dhanpaul gave details of the impact of the injunction on Petrotrin and the State’s financial position. He said since the injunction was granted by the Industrial Court on Monday, the Government had received several requests for guarantees from some of the company’s creditors.
“The danger of these increasing calls for guarantees is that it will adversely affect the national debt ratio, which is already more than optimum. The effect of any delay in the urgently needed restructuring of the assets and debts of Petrotrin, as is likely to be occasioned by the grant of injunctive relief, will only increase investor uncertainty and instability,” Dhanpaul said.
In a 16-page judgement delivered on Monday afternoon, Industrial Court President Deborah Thomas-Felix and four of her colleagues had ruled the injunction was required to protect against the potential risk of injustice while the union’s industrial relations offence against the company is being determined.
In the complaint, the OWTU is alleging Petrotrin committed an offence by failing to consult with it before taking the decision to close the company and send home almost 5,000 workers.