The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) says it will file contempt of court proceedings against Petrotrin for its failure to discuss the criteria being used to staff the Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd and the Paria Fuel Trading Company.
In a media conference at the union’s Paramount Building in San Fernando Tuesday, OWTU president general Ancel Roget said that the union was planning to get the process started.
Last week, the Industrial Court ruled in favour of the OWTU’s complaint that the company acted in violation of Section 40(1) of the Industrial Relations Act by failing in good faith to treat and to enter into negotiation with the union for the purpose of collective bargaining, particularly, the shutdown of the company and the retrenchment of its 4,700 employees. The court ordered Petrotrin to meet with the union to discuss the “issues related to the terms and conditions of employment of the workers for which the company had a duty to discuss with the union.”
The issues included the criteria being used in the rehiring process, the proposed structure of the company, the workers’ pension, savings and medical plans, and other benefits and the computation of termination packages.
“The company refused to say what criteria are being used in the hiring process and what is the whole structure of the new company. It constitutes contempt of court and we will be going for contempt of court proceedings in respect of their refusal to answer those questions. Remember (Reynold) Ajodhasingh and (Wilfred) Espinet, both members of the board of Petrotrin, are also members of the board of this new company. Therefore, they are duty bound to provide answers to the questions coming from the court. They did not answer,” Roget said.
Asked whether the terminated employees are being preferred for employment in the new companies, Roget said the union suspects that may be happening. However, he believes there is an attempt to dupe the public into believing the people are regaining sustainable jobs when the reality is that they would be paid minimum wage with inadequate terms and conditions of employment.
“Essentially, it is to get the union out because it is their belief that if they get the union out they can wreak havoc. That is what they will consider to be profitable and successful.”
Roget added, “They complain about the high salaries of workers that Petrotrin can no longer afford, but it is the same Petrotrin resources/finances they will use to pay a battery of lawyers, three senior counsel, to fight against an agreement that they would have made.
“It is the same Petrotrin they said don’t have money. They are now flying in the face of everyone, saying they are prepared to pay a CEO a quarter million dollars per month for part of the company and that is the basic wage. They did not talk about the benefits.”
He said that in one of the new companies, there is a proposal to have 45 managers where under Petrotrin, there were 11. He said that in the union’s proposal for the restructuring of Petrotrin, that would not have been the case.
“What is happening there you are going to have a selected number of highly paid people and a then a number of exploited people. It will be likened to modern-day slavery for yet another time.”
Roget said that from December 1, the current pension plan will be further burdened as 1,270 new retirees will be added because of the early retirement offered in the shutting down of the company. He said also Government had claimed that the plan was sufficiently funded, the trustee: Republic Bank, stated otherwise. He said the union was told by Petrotrin chairman that the Government will fund the plan, but the union did not trust the company. He added that Petrotrin could not say whether all workers will collect their severance packages on Friday, while there were many casual and temporary employees who worked for 15 to 30 years who were told that they did not qualify for separation packages.
“We call on the Government of Trinidad and Tobago, who have taken this decision to accept the recommendations of the board to close Petrotrin, to do the correct, fair and decent thing consistent with the Government with the mandate to govern for all of T&T to ensure all of the workers you are putting on the breadline, all of them received their benefits.”
Asked whether the OWTU will seek to represent workers of the new companies, Roget said he did not want to comment on the union’s plan just yet.
However, he said, “Certainly, you cannot remove the OWTU from oil and gas. It’s like trying to remove the “S” from Superman’s chest. It’s like trying to remove the white out of milk. No, that is not going to happen. The OWTU was born and bred in the oilfields and we will continue to stay in the oilfields.”