‘People’s Lives are at Risk’: Prime Minister Warns to Civil Aviation Workers

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Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley says his administration will take legal action against any civil aviation worker who joins a call by trade unions to shut down the country on Friday to protest the decision to close the oil refinery of the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN.

Speaking at a public meeting of the ruling People’s National Movement (PNM) in Marabella, on Tuesday night, Rowley warned he was not prepared for the country’s air space to be shut down and urged civil aviation workers to disregard the call by the leader of the Public Service Association (PSA), Watson Duke.

“The law says in this country that essential services are not open to industrial action, otherwise you will be breaking the law. But I see Watson Duke on television big and bad…telling civil aviation workers to abandon their posts.

“Well tonight I want to say to the civil aviation workers do not take any advice from Watson Duke and shut down our air space. People’s lives are at risk. Watson Duke is a politician who engages the government and the PNM as a politician and that is political advice and it is dangerous to the region, to the country and to you as a worker,” Rowley told supporters.

Prime Minister Rowley announced on Sunday that his administration is prepared to give the first option to the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) to acquire the refining assets of PETROTRIN, telling the nation that the “decision to close the refinery was taken after detailed analysis and deep introspection”.

But the OWTU has since rejected the offer and said it was merely a ‘ruse” for the government to sell the refinery to a preferred buyer.

“We have always said that the plan is to sell the people’s asset, the refinery, and it came out quite clearly last night in this sort of a ruse telling the union that we are the first option to buy the refinery,” OWTU President Ancel Roget said.

Rowley said that approximately 1,700 permanent workers will be affected in the refining and marketing division of the company, while in exploration and production, employment levels are to be reduced from 1700 workers to approximately 800 persons.

He recalled that in January 2017, he had warned the nation about the financial situation existing at PETROTRIN and the need to deal with the situation.

“I reminded you that there is a US$850 million bond that is coming due for payment in the form of a single payment in August 2019 and another of almost US$700 million that would be due soon after,” Rowley said, adding that the future of the company “has been the subject of much negative speculation for the past several months but inevitably we must come to the time of decision making as we are forced to abandon the procrastination and finger pointing which have only served to worsen the eventual outcome”.

Rowley told supporters on Tuesday night that while his administration is not engaged in any fight with anyone, but it is determined to enforce the law regarding industrial action within essential services.

“If civil aviation workers take that irresponsible advice and shut down our airspace. I don’t have to instruct the Attorney General to sue every one of them personally and we will go where the law takes us,” he said.

Rowley confirmed that he would be meeting with trade union leaders on Thursday at their request to discuss the PETROTRIN situation.

“I said to them before my job as prime minister is not your job. They are two different jobs and we need to see eye to eye and we need to understand that we are all trying to go to the same place and that’s why I am in no fight with anybody.

“I received a letter from the labour movement late yesterday evening asking for a meeting. I immediately agreed and will meet with them on Thursday afternoon,” he said, adding “I am curious to hear what they are going to tell me.

“This matter did not start yesterday. We took a year and a half analysing this matter and eventually in a sane and sober and disciplined way we came to a decision,” Rowley said, telling the supporters that those opposed to the closure of the oil refinery were either opposition politicians or trade unionists with a political background. – CMC

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