Industrial Court to Rule on OWTU’s Injunction Against PETROTRIN on Monday

FILE PHOTO: OWTU President General Ancel Roget addresses PETROTRIN workers at prayer session outside residence of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley recently.

Union Accuses Company of Breaching Industrial Relations Agreement

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad –The Industrial Court has reserved its judgement to Monday in the matter in which the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) has filed an application aimed at preventing the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN from going ahead with plans to shut down its refinery and dismiss an estimated 3, 400 employees.

Industrial Court President, Deborah Thomas-Felix, said Thursday evening that the panel of judges will deliver the ruling on Monday after hearing more than 10 hours of submissions from attorneys representing the union and the company.

Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes told the court that the company had sought to “mamaguy” the union by notifying them of the refinery’s closure after the decision was already made. He said the move was deliberate and against proper industrial relations best practice.

“Even if PETROTRIN is considering shutting down, the matter dictates that they meet with the OWTU. When you are at a formative stage of decision-making you must give the union adequate information before making that decision, not after because then you will be mamaguying me,” Mendes said.

The OWTU said it had also filed an injunction preventing the company from sending home its workers, accusing it of breaching an industrial relations agreement outlined in the April 3, 2018, Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) that outlined restructuring the company over an 18-month period and to form a working committee.

The union said that the MOA also paved the way for PETROTRIN to be divided into four entities and that the committee would address, resolve and agree on the four organisational structures, work processes, skills, competencies and manpower requirements which would make the company internationally competitive and ensure its survival, sustainability and profitability.

Both parties also agreed to a timetable for meetings starting in April 2018 with the enhancement of operational efficiencies, reduction of waste and the promotion of the company’s business.

Mendes asked whether or not there’s no obligation to simply have a discussion before such a decision shutting down the refinery is made.

“Despite doing what the union has to do on behalf of the workers, the employer maintains that we are shutting down even while considering the union’s proposals of leasing the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery,” Mendes said, as he also questioned the legitimacy of the Office of the Attorney General intervening in the matter.

On the first day of the hearing, the lawyer representing the Office of the Attorney General said he intended to make a formal application to be a party to the legal action taken by the union.

Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam argued that should the injunction be granted, it would affect the “public’s purse” and therefore the Office of the Attorney General had a vested interest in the matter.

On Thursday, Jairam repeated his earlier arguments insisting that the matter was of public interest and that the state was concerned over the consequences such an injunction could have on the public.

PETROTRIN attorney, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, said that while the company was not liable to discuss the decision of its closure with the OWTU beforehand, he said it still maintained discussions with the union until August 28 to hear suggestions on restructuring the company.

Referring to affidavits from permanent secretary in the Ministry of Finance, Vishnu Dhanpaul, and PETROTRIN’s chairman Wilfred Espinet, Armour said while the company continued to engage the union in negotiations over the future of the refinery, the union failed to put forward sustainable business models and did not address concerns relating to debt repayment, financing and profitability.

“The reality is the substance of the agreement of holding discussions with the OWTU were no longer there, the circumstances surrounding the agreement had changed since it was made. We have evidence that the company was engaging consistently with the union on talks of how to make PETROTRIN more competitive.”

The Industrial Court president said that the ruling on the injunction will be delivered on Monday at 3.00 pm (local time) while the hearing of the industrial relations offence will begin on Thursday. – CMC