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NP workers protest, gas runs low at stations

By Newsday Staff Saturday, May 21 2011

click on pic to zoom in
Unfair offer: OWTU and NP officials hold a sign comparing a $40 million contract allegedly awarded to a company whose owners are friends with the Prim...
Unfair offer: OWTU and NP officials hold a sign comparing a $40 million contract allegedly awarded to a company whose owners are friends with the Prim...

Nationwide supplies of diesel, premium unleaded and super unleaded gas ran dangerously low at gas stations yesterday, as employees of the National Petroleum Marketing Company (NP), downed tools and protested at NP’s Sea Lots headquarters from as early as 8 am yesterday.

However, NP in a statement last evening assured gas deliveries resumed by yesterday afternoon. Larry Raymond, president of the NP branch of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) said workers were disgruntled over safety issues, as well as the slow pace of wage negotiations for the period 2008-2011. He said they are being offered five percent.

“All daily, monthly and weekly paid workers are on a work stoppage, and this will continue over the weekend. We are not as yet certain what will be our course of action on Monday,” Raymond said.

He said the workers, via the OWTU, are also calling for greater flexibility of management, as they believe management’s hands were being tied, “by external forces.”

Raymond also explained that malfunctioning alarm systems, as well as accommodation issues with NP’s facilities at the Piarco International Airport and the Point-a-Pierre Industrial Estate were issues which the employees would like to see addressed immediately.

More than 200 workers, armed with placards, marched around the Sea Lots compound, with approximately five fuel trucks parked outside the compound.

Raymond said the current fuel storage capacity at gas stations should last until today.

“After this, it will actually take about three days to refuel these stations,” Raymond explained.

President of the Petroleum Dealers Association, Ken Medford, reported that members of the public were already lining up at service stations to ensure their vehicles had full tanks.

“A lot of stations may have to close this evening (yesterday) because there will not be any deliveries. We are waiting to see what will happen over the weekend,” Medford said.

There were reports of panic buying at some stations yesterday.

However, Ronald Milford, CEO of United Independent Petroleum Marketing Company Limited (UNIPET) assured the industrial action by NP’s staff will not bring the country to a “standstill.”

“We have 22 gas stations operating throughout Trinidad and Tobago and they will all be running at full capacity,” Milford assured.

He said his employees and fuel transport trucks were currently operating at State oil company Petrotrin’s fuel bond. “This is the beauty of having a second supplier,” he said.

Milford said the only area in which UNIPET had no presence was in the aviation industry. “This is the only area which may have some issues with the NP shortage since NP is the only local supplier of fuel for airplanes,” he said.

However, operations at the Piarco and ANR Robinson International Airports were not severely affected. Airports Authority general manager Louis Frederick said that at about 6 am, he received a report that NP workers at the Piarco Airport had vacated the compound because of health and safety issues. “I got another report at 8.30 where supervisors were planning to meet with employees. At about 8.50 I saw the NP trucks refuelling and servicing the planes,” he said.

“Flights were on schedule, cargo flights as well,” he said.

Caribbean Airlines reported that its flights all left on time. Its head of corporate communications Laura Asbjornsen said, “We were assured by NP that everything had gone back to normal.”

In its release, NP said it was “working diligently to return the situation to normalcy.”

Yesterday afternoon, Raymond and a delegation had a meeting with NP’s management but he said, “It was not productive and we are still holding our positions.”

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