There has been no real progress in discussions on restructuring state-owned oil company Petrotrin.
This was the assessment by Ancel Roget, president general of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), after an almost-three-hour meeting yesterday with the Prime Minister (PM) and members of his Cabinet at the Office of the PM, St Clair.
Addressing the media outside the OPM afterwards, Roget said, “We are nowhere clearer or more assured of Petrotrin’s success, based on the utterances of the PM”
He said from what the PM had said, the board had given him a report which Cabinet had accepted and wanted to implement.
Roget said Petrotrin workers outside the OPM should begin praying, because based on the union’s understanding of what Rowley had said, “Cabinet has accepted that Petrotrin workers should go home in some shape or form.”
Rowley had said workers would not be “placed on the pavement,” but would “get proper compensation,” he said.
“Now what does that mean? You don’t compensate people if they staying in their job,” Roget said.
He reiterated the union’s call for vacancies at the company to be filled, which he argued would help boost Petrotrin’s production levels. He lamented that the board, chaired by Wilfred Espinet, had apparently instead decided on job cuts.
He said when pressed as to what the company would look like and if it would be divided into four operational areas. consistent with the memoranda of agreement, Rowley did not answer, but said “the board will communicate with us.”
Roget said the PM also told the union it was “free to discuss and put our positions to the board” but asked, “What sense does it make, when the board would have gone to Cabinet for approval on a recommendation that has nothing to do us and then to come back to us?”
Earlier, in a separate press conference inside the OPM, Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon – the sole minister to speak with the media after the meeting – said, “The discussions were quite keen, at times intense, and that is to be expected, but at the end of the day, it was a harmonious and successful meeting.”
Gopee-Scoon said cost structures were the “substantive issue” dealt with during the meeting – “The heavy costs which the government now has to bear.”
She said “the deliverable” would have been “the acceptance by both sides that Petrotrin must be restructured and reorganised into a profitable entity that can take care of itself and its workers and contribute to the government’s economy.”
Yesterday’s meeting was also attended by Energy Minister Franklin Khan; Stuart Young as Minister in the OPM; Minister in the Finance Ministry, Allyson West; and six executive members of the OWTU.
The day before, Petrotrin issued a notice warning staff against being absent from work to attend the meeting.
“Deliberate and intentional absence from work can be construed as an illegal industrial action and can be subjected to disciplinary action. As it stands to date, there exists no issue between the company and the bargaining agents that can justify the use of industrial action, as prescribed in Sections 60 and 61 of the Industrial Relations Act, Chapter 88:01,” the Petrotrin circular said.
Speaking with reporters before the meeting, Roget said workers were unfazed by this “threat,” and their goal right now is to have a salary and not necessarily pay for one day.