Union gets support for strike within energy sector

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Jan 3, CMC – The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) Tuesday expressed support for the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) that has threatened to call a strike at the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN from Wednesday if last minute talks over salary increases for workers fail.
OWTU President General Ancel Roget said prior to talks with PETROTRIN officials on Tuesday that the union was seeking a 10 per cent wage hike after the company had proposed a zero salary increase for the period 2014-2017.
Negotiations for the previous period, 2011-2014 is currently before the Industrial Court.
The WFTU is urging nationals to disregard the calls by employers for the workers to abandon the plan of a strike and instead stand in solidarity with the affected workers.
“The PETROTRIN workers risk life and limb, working in varying dangerous conditions, to guarantee a reliable supply of fuel to the travelling public; the Trinidad and Tobago people know better than anyone that the country’s economy is based on products made possible by the tireless efforts of these workers.
“That’s why we call on the workers and the simple people of the country to stand by the PETROTRIN workers, ignoring the employers’ appeals to not struggle,” the WFTU said in a statement, affirming its support for the workers and any form of action they take.
The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (FITUN) has also expressed solidarity with the PETROTRIN workers, condemning what it termed “misinformation and inconsistent statements” coming from government about the offer made by PETROTRIN to the OWTU.
Meanwhile, the Employers Consultative Association of Trinidad and Tobago (ECA) is calling on citizens to resist the OWTU planned shutdown of PETROTRIN from Wednesday.
The ECA condemned the union’s intended action noting the need of the country to rebuild its fractured and damaged economy.
It said if a strike occurs, this would not only be seen as highly irresponsible and reckless by “right-thinking” citizens but can be interpreted as a declaration of war against the population.
“The ECA will continue to be a strong proponent for the sanctity of due process, notwithstanding who may be the actors involved. However, the present set of circumstances not only requires, but also demands, that good sense prevails if we are serious about building our common future together, which requires, at the very least, renewed collective action by all parties to the tripartite conversation if we are to achieve a better quality of life as a people,” the ECA said.
The ECA acknowledged the role of the workers but noted a simple comparative analysis would reveal that there are many differences between a PETROTRIN employee and those in similar positions in other sectors.
“In this regard, the simple cry for parity by saying this group of workers should get what the rest of the country got cannot be objectively considered as fair and reasonable.
“The facts as presented in the newspaper article of Saturday, December 31, 2016 by the president of PETROTRIN Fitzroy Harewood, needs no further explanation. The cost to the State of an additional EC$444 million (One EC dollar =US$0.37 cents) for increased wages will not only be burdensome to an already unprofitable and unproductive entity in terms of plant, machinery, and organisational capacity and capabilities, but, in addition, will be a huge burden to taxpayers.
“Is this an additional responsibility that taxpayers are willing and, more importantly, able to bear at this time?”
Harewood in a statement said “the Industrial Relations Act allows for the maximum duration of a strike to be 90 days.

Ancel Roget

“Given what now seems an inevitable strike action, the company has initiated a number of contingency measures to ensure continuity of supplies to the local market for petroleum refined products as long as reasonably possible. It also goes without saying that the company’s financial losses will be greater due to the loss of revenue expected during the period of a strike.”
He said that any possible strike action “given the current scenario is not in our collective best interest.
“It could threaten the continuity of our operations.  It is our view that any such action at this time will be ill-advised as it would add to the burden on the national community and exacerbate the economic conditions in our Company and the country.”
Citing the company’s contractual requirement to make TT$1.2 billion in debt payments in 2017 and the fall in oil prices, Harewood explained that PETROTRIN did not have the money to make retroactive payments for the 2011-2014 period.
 “Such an increase would serve to further exacerbate the situation facing PETROTRIN’s business which has already been severely impacted by the approximately 50 per cent drop in world oil prices between 2014 and the present time.
 “Any increase in manpower costs will result in increased losses and further exacerbate our cash flow situation, thus exposing PETROTRIN to the risk of funds not being available to meet our operational requirements.”

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