THOUSANDS OF Petrotrin workers have left their posts for the last time, but not before being ushered through a gauntlet of emotional turmoil, and anxiety-inducing uncertainty. It’s odd that for a country practised in the cyclical shutting down and reorganising of state companies we don’t seem to be getting any better at it.
The havoc at the Petrotrin compound and other installations following the company’s last official day was likely deeply traumatic for ex-employees. It was also both entirely avoidable and predictable. Signs that the shuttering of the haemorrhaging state-owned oil company would be a messy affair emerged with the first whispers of a shutdown.
Petrotrin wasn’t really wound up. It was evacuated. The procedure of bringing operations to a close was pursued with an aggressive haste that could only have produced one result: manufactured chaos.
Petrotrin’s end was shrouded in as much confusion as was the beginning of the end. Initial reports suggested 1700 workers would be sent home. That figure then went up to roughly 3500. Suddenly, it was everyone going home. This may very well have been a strategy on the part of the State: the release of information in bits and pieces to delay the caraille-strength bitter pill for as long as practical. However, strategy suggests thought. The concept of thought in this Government is a tough sell, even in a buyer’s market.
Petrotrin Chairman Wilfred Espinet was, at one point, the main source of information for the rollout of the shutdown process. He was quoted on September 4 as having said there was no plan to sell or privatise the refinery at Pointe-a-Pierre. Are you still paying attention people? If you’re only watching the left hand you’ll miss what the right hand is doing.
The same Espinet is later quoted on October 4 as saying “the plant would be mothballed and if someone wants it, it will be there.” Oh what a difference a month makes! Or is it the month that made the difference?
In the article on September 4, Espinet was responding to a revelation by the Prime Minister that changed the game a bit, at least as far as us peasants on the ground were given to understand it. Dr Keith Rowley was reported to have said Petrotrin could be “put into a separate company for opportunity attention.”
I googled “opportunity attention” to see if this is an esoteric industry term. Even with my considerable knowledge of Google and search engine optimisation, I couldn’t find those two words paired together in any context other than the articles which quoted the PM.
This means there’s a strong possibility Dr Rowley has added a new phrase to the lexicon of business. Soon we can expect to see cars on the road with signs posted on the windows that read: “For opportunity attention, please call...” Perhaps this Christmas store owners eager to entice gun-shy shoppers will place advertisements in the newspapers offering “a huge opportunity attention on all bathroom fixtures.”
As the closure of the oil company was being hustled along to fit into a compressed timeline, the narrative vacillated wildly. It’s tempting to conclude, in this hazy environment, that the Government and the Petrotrin board were dancing to completely different tunes. Ultimately, though, the Government is the DJ, and the DJ doesn’t take requests but runs the tracks.
There are two main victims in this deluge of confusion: the workers and the truth. On their final day, already burdened with terror for what the future holds, the “exited” employees were given another grim surprise.
At midday on D-day, they were told they needed to supply to Petrotrin their completed, filed 2017 income tax forms in order to get their full severance payments. All of you out there living in your always-up-to-date-with-my-taxes glass houses, feel free to go ahead and throw stones.
Naturally, this led to a completely unnecessary, mad scramble, further compounding the insult and hurt of being summarily dismissed after years of service. Again, this happened on the day former employees expected to be paid.
Some people believe Petrotrin’s final fate was unavoidable. Others are convinced it could have and should have been saved. Few, however, could reasonably dispute that it was handled abysmally. The discord-by-design of Petrotrin’s closure will have repercussions for this country long after the newspaper headlines join the oil company’s gas flares in quiet darkness.