IT was another chaotic day for ex-Petrotrin workers yesterday as hundreds flooded the Board of Inland Revenue (BIR) Cipero Street, San Fernando office to get proof that their taxes were up to date. With that proof, they could be reimbursed the 25 per cent taxes which were deducted from their severance and other benefits last Friday when the company closed its doors.
This contrary to an earlier statement by the Prime Minister that the exit payment to Petrotrin employees, up to $500,000, would have been exempted from taxes. The humiliation extended further as the ex-workers went to deposit their documents and were turned away by armed Amalgamated security guards and soldiers at the main entrances to the Pointe-a-Pierre installation.
Amid this chaos came reports that daily-paid and monthly staff at the Petrotrin staff club were also “put out of the compound.”
“We are just being screwed all around,” angry workers voiced their frustration outside the BIR offices, recalling last Friday’s protest when the company failed to pay their severance and monthly salary on time.
Workers felt it was unnecessary for them to come to the BIR to verify information the company had at its finger tips and saw it as another delay tactic, speculating that there was a possibility funds were scarce to meet the cost to close the oil company. Petrotrin said it disbursed $2.7 billion in exit and other payments to its 3,400 permanent employees while 1,229 temporary workers received ex-gratia payments.
An internal memo issued on the last day of Petrotrin’s operations said the taxes would have been withheld on termination payments to comply with BIR instructions to ensure employees receive their exit packages on time.
The memo said the taxes would have been placed in an escrow account while employees confirmed their tax status. But ex-employees said they are uncertain when they would receive their just due. While the memo also confirmed BIR would have placed additional resources to deal with the influx, BIR staff were overwhelmed. One security guard was seen closing the door to stop the intake.
One ex-worker told Newsday, “They asked us to drop off a copy of our 2017 income tax return. A lot of people who did not have a copy of theirs came here to collect a copy. We were told to drop it off at Wages Control at Pointe-a-Pierre, but no one was there to receive it. We are being told that advertisements would be placed in the daily newspapers telling us when and where we can drop off our documents.”
Newsday met former worker and councillor for Cedros, Shankar Teelucksingh who went to deposit his statements at the Guaracara sports club. Teelucksingh said he filed his taxes since July 2018 when he received the TD-4 certificate from his employer. He said in spite of his taxes being up-to-date, “approximately $175,000 from my exit package has been withheld.”
Holding his 2017 tax return cheque which he collected from the post office only that morning, Teelucksingh told members of the media “this place is like a ghost town. There is no one there to receive it.”
Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet said he was informed people were on hand to collect the BIR forms all day.
“The information I got is it was operational and people were dropping off their stuff. So you have me confused. I am flabbergasted by what you are telling me.”