THE Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) has signalled its intention to appeal a February 18 decision by the Industrial Court not to give any salary increases to Trinidad and Tobago Electricity Commission (T&TEC) workers for 2015-2017.
In doing so, the union reiterated claims of corruption at the company and suggested there should be an inquiry into its hiring practices.
OWTU president-general Ancel Roget made these statements at a news conference at the union's Paramount Building office, San Fernando on Friday.
With respect to T&TEC's hiring practices, Roget said, "What should really happen in T&TEC is that they should also have some sort of commission of enquiry."
On February 18, the court ruled that T&TEC workers would not get a salary increase for the 2015-2017 period as it would be too expensive for T&TEC to pay at this time.
The judgment was delivered on February 18 by a three-member team comprising Lawrence Achong, chairman of the essential services division, and members Vincent Cabrera and Michelle Austin.
Roget declared this was unfair to the estimated 2,800 employees who had worked tirelessly to ensure a reliable supply of electricity to the population during the covid19 pandemic. The same workers, he continued, also ensured that electricity was restored as quickly as possible to different parts of Trinidad during a major blackout in February. Tobago was unaffected by that incident.
Based on its lawyers' advices, the OWTU filed a notice to appeal the court's judgement with the Court of Appeal on Thursday and will now await a date for the hearing of that appeal.
"If there is one group of workers in TT that deserve a proper adjustment on their wages, it is the T&TEC workers.I say that without fear of contradiction, without fear of confrontation," Roget said. "While we sleep there is electricity. While you are awake, there is electricity. When you are sick, there is electricity. When you get well, there is electricity. That is the constant."
Reiterating that the February 18 judgment was unfair to the T&TEC workers, Roget declared, "We are not going to accept any zero-zero-zero (salary increase)."
Referring to to recent profits declared by some private-sector companies such as Angostura and the Ansa McAl Group, Roget argued that a reliable electricity supply was key to the achievement of those profits.
He claimed T&TEC had not proved it could not pay workers any salary increase from 2015-2017, and the covid19 pandemic cannot be used to justify this. Roget was concerned that if the February 18 judgement stands, other employers could use it as an argument not to adhere to collective bargaining agreements for pre-pandemic times.
He reiterated the union's concerns that in some parts of T&TEC's operations, the level of contract labour was between a third and half of the workforce. Roget claimed the company is supposed to have 300 linesmen, but this is not the case.
"Who benefits from that? Corruption did not stop when the UNC went out of office (in September 2015)."
Roget claimed T&TEC did a manpower audit but does not want to share it with the union. He hinted the OWTU could seek that information through a freedom of information request.
He also said the OWTU's efforts to meet with Public Utilities Minister Marvin Gonzales to address these issues have been unsuccessful to date.
"If he does not want to meet with the union's executive," he warned, "he will be forced to meet with all of the workers (at T&TEC)."