President General of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget will today keep up his campaign against Government’s decision to close Petrotrin’s refinery, even as the Prime Minister is to address the nation on issue tonight.
Roget, as leader of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM), will host the third press conference in Port of Spain to date since Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet announced last Tuesday that the refinery will be shut down placing an estimated 2,500 workers, 1,700 of them permanent refinery employees, on the breadline.
Roget held a press conference immediately after, and again last Thursday, under JTUM, where he predicated economic chaos if Government goes through with the plan. Member unions supporting OWTU also increased their call for all workers to take part in Friday’s day of rest and reflection, on the anniversary of the PNM’s election into office, three years ago. Roget had said if Dr Keith Rowley did not withdraw the plan, he should call the election immediately. And a week ago today, OWTU members, and Petrotrin employees with their families held a vigil outside the Prime Minister’s residence at La Fantasie, St Ann’s.
Today’s press conference takes place at 11 am at PSA Rooftop, Abercromby Street, Port of Spain.
The Prime Minister’s address is scheduled for 7.30 pm and will be broadcast on radio and television stations.
“This decision will plunge the country into chaos and confusion. Already you cannot deal with crime, education, health, you cannot provide jobs for young graduates. Instead of creating jobs for young bright youths, you are taking away jobs,” Roget had said last Thursday.
Roget charged that Rowley was part of the problem that is responsible for Petrotrin’s misfortune, when he sat in previous PNM administrations which made bad management decisions to invest in projects such as the failed World Gas to Liquids plant.
“Now he is saying it does not matter how it start, we have to fix it now. He wants to hide the fact that he was in the PNM cabinet when those decisions were made, but we will have none of that.”
Roget pledged that the “feet of workers pounding on the pavement” would shake this country like that of an earthquake if other options proposed for Petrotrin’s viability are not considered. He said the impact of the closure would be felt throughout the south east and south western peninsula from Mayaro to Icacos among the fence line communities. Petrotrin operates in Mayaro, Pointe-a-Pierre, Penal, Santa Flora, Point Fortin and Forest Reserve.
He said the Espinet-chaired board and government were fooling the people into believing that 1,700 refinery workers were to be separated. Roget said the implication is that it would affect the 3,500 permanent employees, 2,000 temporary and casual workers as well as 3,500 employed by contractors.
He said when the multiplier effect is added to that “9,000 human-being workers”, to include their families, with an estimated five people per family, it would bring the total to 45,000 affected.
He added to the mix must service providers, manufacturers, caterers, vendors, taxi and maxi taxi drivers.
He said credit unions where workers borrowed and saved would now be hard pressed to survive without the monthly or weekly contributions and may be forced to call in loans. He warned the Petrotrin pension fund, the largest pension fund in the country could crash if there are not enough workers to sustain it. Pensioners, now in their twilight years, who depend on this income for survival and require more medical attention would therefore suffer extreme hardship.
He said the oil workers are also major tax contributors and predicted a fallout in PAYE contributions as well as to the national insurance scheme, health surcharge and other such mandatory contributions.
Roget said the impact would also be felt among the social, sporting and cultural communities. He said sports clubs, football groups, athletes, supported by Petrotrin, steelbands which they sponsor, would all be left in the lurch if the company grinds to a halt as proposed.
He claimed Government were presented with three scenarios being to continue business as usual, transform the financial performance with a reduced work force in the upstream and downstream areas or the third option, which they seemed to favour, fire all 3,500 workers and rehire 1,000.
He said the union presented an independent comprehensive plan which is the prescription for Petrotrin’s success if implemented. He said this plan has been presented to previous political administrations and boards, yet it was never considered.