Lawyers representing Petrotrin and the Government were before the Court of Appeal up to late last night in their bid for a stay of an injunction barring the company from terminating its workers.
The hearing began around 4 pm and by the time Appellate Judge Charmaine Pemberton took a break around 7 pm, Petrotrin’s lawyers had only just completed their submissions.
During the break, attorneys were seen making calls to cancel their plans for the night, as both the State and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) were also expected to present lengthy submissions on the issue when the hearing resumed.
Legal sources close to the case suggested that Pemberton could have chosen to either consider the case and deliver her decision late last night or adjourn her decision to this morning after the marathon hearing.
At the start of yesterday’s hearing, attorney Anthony Bullock, who is representing the OWTU, asked for an adjournment as Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who is leading him, is abroad.
The request was opposed by the company and the State.
As Pemberton upheld the objection, she agreed to hear submissions on the issue of the stay but adjourned the substantive appeal against the injunction to next Thursday, when it will be heard before a full panel of judges.
In the event the company gets the stay, it may immediately resume issuing termination letters and offering voluntary separation to employees pending the determination of the appeal.
In its notice of appeal, Petrotrin raised 15 grounds challenging seven legal findings made by the Industrial Court. However, the company did not raise any complaint about the facts on the issue considered by the court.
The company’s attorneys are claiming that 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 that the court erred when it ruled that the company had a duty to consult with the union.
The company is also contending that 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.
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,” Dhanpaul said.
“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,” he added.
In its complaint, the OWTU is alleging that Petrotrin committed the offence by failing to consult with it before taking the decision to close the company and send home almost 5,000 workers. It claims the company breached a memorandum of agreement signed between the parties in April, as the company only informed the union of the decision, after making it in conjunction with Cabinet in July.