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Tuesday 18 December 2018
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Editorial

Answers needed

THE OWTU won a pyrrhic victory against Petrotrin early last week, when Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix ruled that it failed to deal with the union in good faith as it moved to close the company. But the court denied the union’s application to bar Petrotrin from continuing to terminate workers. That $4,000 fine is a rounding error on the oil company’s closing financials.

The company must, on the orders of the court, meet with the union to discuss “issues related to the terms and conditions of employment of the workers.”

That statement might be the most official order given in recent memory to close the door of a barn long emptied of horses.

The OWTU might better consider the fate of the enormous pool of workers who left the company years ago, assured of a pension earned by their work at the company and the support of a hospital that was supposed to care for them.

On Friday, Energy Minister Franklin Khan declared unequivocally in Parliament that the Augustus Long Hospital in Pointe-a-Pierre would be closed on December 1, as part of the implementation of a “new organisational structure.” Pensioners who have known the company facility all their working lives will be transitioned to a medical plan with Sagicor which will run at Petrotrin’s expense for two years.

Khan promised that at the end of two years, the plan would be rolled over or re-evaluated, but no Petrotrin pensioner should plan their lives based on the hope of continued largesse by the Government after the closure of Petrotrin.

Not when a major local bank, specifically Republic Bank’s Trust Services Division, has expressed such grave concern about the financing of the pension plan, which it claims faced a solvency deficit of $2.73 billion in September 2016.

If the pension plan was ended on that date, a bank representative wrote to Petrotrin, it would be unable pay all its dependents their full pensions.

Republic Trust estimates that in 23 years, the fund would be exhausted, with liabilities of $4 billion.

On December 1, the company will retire 1,300 Petrotrin employees aged 50 years and over, all of whom are entitled to lump-sum pension payments that will total $1 billion.

The Energy Minister fell back on actuarial assurances of the capacity of the fund to meet its demand “well into the 2040s.”

When a bank, a trustee of the fund, expresses significant concern about the Government’s handling of this critical element of the Petrotrin closure, the OWTU should take that cue to challenge the Government’s predictions with real membership knowledge and an evaluation of the financial situation by an independent financial professional.

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