Unions Plan Nationwide Strike as PETROTRIN Announces Closure of Oil-refining Operations

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad – Members of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) Wednesday announced plans for a day of “rest and reflection” on September 7 as they rallied in support of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) that is seeking to prevent the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN from implementing a closure of its refinery.

PETROTRIN announced Tuesday the closure of its oil-refining operations as part of an overall plan to restructure the company that has recorded billions of dollars in losses in recent years.

PETROTRIN chairman, Wilfred Espinet, in a statement following a meeting with the OWTU, said approximately 2,600 permanent jobs will be affected with all 1,700 jobs in refinery being terminated.

“PETROTRIN has lost a total of about TT$8 billion in the last five years; is TT$12 billion in debt; and owes the government of Trinidad and Tobago more than three billion (TT) in taxes and royalties,’ Espinet said, adding that the company currently requires a cash injection of TT$25 billion to stay alive “ to refresh its infrastructure, and to repay its debt and even with that, if left as is, it is projected to continue losing about TT$2 billion a year,” he said.

Wilfred Espinet

But JTUM members, representing, banking, teachers, nurses, farmers as well as communication workers, said that they would be directed their membership to stay away from work next Friday in protest at the decision to shut down the refinery.

President of the Farmers Union, Shiraz Khan, said the unions were no longer prepared to “take that damn stupidness” from the government of Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley, warning that September 7 is only the start.”

President of the Trinidad and Tobago Registered Nurses Association (TTRNA), Idi Stewart, said nurses would be instructed to stay away from work if they are unable to get transportation as the Maxi Taxi Association said its members would also participate in the day of reflection.

The Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association (TTUTA) warned that schools “will be devoid of teachers” and the union president Lynsley Doodhai warned the authorities “You touch one worker, you touch all workers.

“TUTUTA expresses its solidarity with the OWTU and to its members who are affected and we stand to give any support that is necessary,” he added.

President General of the Amalgamated Workers Union, Michael Prentice, said the 80-year-old organisation supported the OWTU’s position to discuss a restructuring of PETROTRIN.
“We could ill- afford a war with the labour movement,” he said, reiterating a call for dialogue on the matter.

The OWTU has already indicated that it would “vigorously oppose” the plan to close down the refinery with its president general Ancel Roget insisting “that proposal is not to see the light of day at all”.

Shiraz Khan, President of the Farmers Union

Roget insisted that the cash-strapped company could be turned around to become a viable entity and restated that the proposals submitted by the union should be given a chance to be implemented.

He said the union had no confidence in the government, as well as the board of the state-owned energy company ‘and as a result of all of that mistrust and the absence of us involved in the discussions that would have led to that proposal (to close down the refinery) that we totally reject it out of hand.

“We must use and we will use any or every influence that we have, wherever we have it, however we get it to bring to bear of a viable PETROTRIN,” Roget said, adding that with a viable oil company “ you can then have sustainable employment.

Energy Minister Franklin Khan has said that PETROTRIN’s current state of affairs has the ability to “bankrupt” the country, describing the state oil company as moving towards a black hole.”

Khan told reporters that PETROTRIN is also saddled with high operating costs averaging between US$30 to US$40 for the company to lift a barrel of oil and when oil prices are US$40 it is obviously uneconomical. – CMC

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