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OWTU TAKES 5

VERNE BURNETT Tuesday, January 10 2017

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THE strike at State oil company Petrotrin, threatened by the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) was called off yesterday - the day it was supposed to begin - with Petrotrin President Fitzroy Harewood saying the company has enough fuel in storage to keep the local market supplied and deliver on exports. The OWTU called off the strike after Petrotrin offered a five percent interim wage increase, for the period 2011 – 2014, half of what was demanded by the union.

Both sides will meet on February 28 to continue negotiations for the 2011 – 2014 period. Harewood said the five percent salary increase award would cost the company an additional $80 million a year, which would be made up through operational efficiencies. OWTU President General Ancel Roget said there was a written agreement signed by the company and the Corporation Sole – the Minister of Finance – that negotiation for the period 2011 – 2014 would be completed by February 28, and the first interim payment of the five percent increase would be implemented immediately with workers seeing that increase in their pay packets.

Roget said greater levels of efficiency and safety would be required at Petrotrin and the company must get rid of corruption, maladministration and poor management.

“Then and only then, once Petrotrin rids itself of all inefficiencies and elements that keep it down, would it be able to realise its fullest potential.” He said that over the past five years, from 2011 to 2015, Petrotrin would have contributed about $16 billion to the country and workers were the ones who made this possible.

“We maintain this afternoon, as we have always maintained, it is workers who would have produced and kept Petrotrin whole despite the fact that it was poorly managed and was plagued with corruption and still does to some extent. We maintain that despite the fact that it possessed then and still does at this point a level of political involvement and patronage, the only reason Petrotrin continues to survive is because of its workers who continue to labour consistently.

“Therefore we are saying the workers ought to be compensated and we are happy that this afternoon, we have registered the first part of the agreement...an interim settlement of five percent and come February, we would close these negotiations once and for all for that particular period 2011 – 2014.” Roget said the period 2014 – 2017, which was the period for which the strike was threatened, would be referred to the Industrial Court for conciliation.

He said the company itself has admitted it could save some $552 million by eliminating inefficiencies in operation, adding Petrotrin needs to increase its own crude oil production and if it could import less and produce more of its own crude oil, “you can well see where that mix would afford Petrotrin the opportunity to save more and make greater (profit) margins.” Minister of Labour, Small and Micro Enterprises Jennifer Baptiste- Primus, herself a former trade unionist, said at a news conference held after talks ended, that the agreement was reached after more than 30 hours of negotiations. She said that since the beginning of the meeting on Sunday at 10 am, neither side left the bargaining table save and except for Sunday afternoon to attend a hearing at the Industrial Court.

She said it was “historic” in that even in her previous incarnation as a trade unionist, she was unaware of any negotiation going on for more than 30 hours. She was pleased that talks succeeded in averting a major strike that would have crippled this country’s largest income earner.

Baptiste-Primus said the ministry and its staff recognised that the entire nation held its breath over the possibility of a strike and sacrifices were made on all sides to achieve an agreement both two sides could live with. She said the nation can breathe again. Baptiste-Primus commended Petrotrin President Harewood for leading negotiations on behalf of the company, taking time to engage in detailed analysis of the company’s state and presenting said analysis to the OWTU. She also praised Roget for his sense of nationalism, recognising that in a negotiation one does not always get all that one asked for. She said that while Roget did not get the ten percent demanded, it was important that people were at a comfort level.

The Minister said it is up to the President of Petrotrin and his team to sit with the union and devise a rescue plan for the company. For his part, Harewood said the money to pay the interim wage increase would come from savings on the company’s operational expenses and the company and union would work out productivity triggers at which the agreed retroactive sums would be paid to the workers.

He said this was a unique arrangement and something good that came out of negotiations which would give the company a chance to defer payment to a later date when it is in a much better financial position to pay. He said the company is continuing to look at ways of achieving efficiencies and to take strategic decisions necessary to restructure itself and determine what a new Petrotrin would look like.



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