Government calls emergency meeting as union serves strike notice

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 4, CMC – The Trinidad and Tobago government has called an emergency meeting for Thursday to discuss the impasse between the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN, after the union served notice of industrial action over wage increase.
The OWTU, which is seeking a 10 per cent wage hike for the workers, has rejected the company’s offer of a zero per cent hike over the period 2014-17. Negotiations for the previous period, 2011-2014 is currently before the Industrial Court.
The two parties met late on Tuesday and early Wednesday, and OWTU President General Ancel Roget told reporters that the union had served the strike notice on the company which goes into effect on Monday. PETROTRIN has four days to respond to the strike notice.
In a brief statement, the Ministry of Labour said it would meet ‘as a matter of priority” in order to deal with the OWTU concerns.
But Roget urged workers not to be taken aback by the comments from the private sector organisations criticising the decision to call the strike which they said would further cripple the ailing economy.
“We have served successfully, strike notice on the President of the Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago. We have effectively served them with strike notice for the next three month,” he said, adding “I want to advice comrades not to listen to the critics, not to listen to those bleeding hearts in the media, not to listen to those powerful influence in the national community, not to listen to the business community….
“All they want is foreign exchange. While you work they get foreign exchange, so you are not getting an increase but they want to continue to get foreign exchange…you have to take a position,” he said.
Roget also issued a warning to casual and temporary workers, who may be called upon to pick up the slack during the strike.
“We are advising you that one of the most important feature of all of this (strike)  is for us to fill vacancies. So do not work against yourself,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Energy Chamber has described as “reckless’ the ill-advised, cavalier, potentially costly strike by the OWTU and was appealing to the workers to ignore the call by their union.
“The decision to strike by the OWTU can only be described as reckless and cavalier and inimical to the interest of the very workers that the OWTU represents. Such action only serves to imperil PETROTRIN’s survival and cause unnecessary hardship to the citizens of the country.”
The Chamber said the majority of the employees at the oil company are hardworking, diligent and highly skilled “and, like everyone else, they would like to see improvement in their remuneration packages. But while no one can argue with this desire, the reality is that PETROTRIN just cannot afford the increases proposed by the OWTU”.
The  Chamber said it was also deeply concerned about the effect of the strike on the wider local economy and, in particular, the economy of south Trinidad.
“PETROTRIN is a very important tax-payer, even in its present financial state.  Increasing oil production is one of the very few short-to-medium term revenue raising strategies available to Trinidad & Tobago and PETROTRIN has a crucial role to play in this effort.  As both a major user of foreign currency, to import crude oil for the refinery, and a major generator of US dollars through sales of refined products, PETROTRIN also has a crucial role to play in resolving the current shortages of foreign exchange. The financial state of the company impacts on all our citizens”.

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