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Petrotrin, OWTU to discuss productivity

VERNE BURNETT Thursday, January 12 2017

Fitzroy Harewood, president of the State oil company, Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago Limited (Petrotrin), says that the company and the Oilfield Workers Trade Union will meet to discuss increases in the company’s productivity and establish what he called productivity triggers at which retroactive amounts due to workers under the interim 5% wage increase award agreed between the parties will be paid.

Under the agreement reached on Monday, the union accepted the interim award which would pay the 5% increase in the next salary payment due in February and the backpay, resulting from the agreement, at a later stage.

At a news conference at the Ministry of Labour and Small Enterprise Development as the agreement was announced on Monday, Harewood said this provision was unique and may be one of the good things to come out of the standoff. He said it gives the company a chance to defer the payments to a period when it is in a much better position to pay. He estimated the 5% increase would add $80 million a year to the company’s wage bill which he said would be covered through efficiencies in operating expenses.

According to Harewood, the company continues to look at ways of improving its overall performance and take strategic decisions required to restructure the company and determine what the “new” Petrotrin would look like.

He said the $80 million would come from operations, noting that having averted a strike the company will continue to earn foreign exchange as it continues to operate its refineries and sell refined products “so it now becomes integral to part of the business of running Petrotrin as we go forward.”

He said while the company’s overall level of operating expense was a concern it had communicated to the shareholder – the Government – through the board of directors, and the company was committed to finding ways of reducing its expenditure. “We have already started to witness a downward trend in our operating expenses and we believe that with the focus and the approach we expect, that trend will continue.”

With the interim agreement, the negotiations for the 2014- 2017 period has been referred to the Industrial. Harewood said there was no guaranteed settlement for the period at the Industrial Court but the two parties would meet at the court and through conciliation determine their final positions in time to wrap up the negotiations for the 2011-2014 period on February 28.

Responding to the OWTU’s call for his removal from the company, Harewood said it should be noted that he met with the union “toe to toe” and they were able to sign an agreement to work for the betterment of the company. He said that vilification of Chief Executive Officers is “par for the course” in trade union negotiations but it is also part of strategy and normally when the dust settles, work continues, adding that “we are not thin skinned in this business. The oil business is a tough business and we will deal with that as we go forward. We don’t hold grudges and we move forward. We do what we have to do.”

He said that the Petrotrin refinery has capacity for storage of crude oil and finished refined products and the company had a “significant supply” of refined products in its tanks from which it could continue supplying the local market as well as meeting the demands of export markets and during this period the company expected to restart the plants which were taken offline as part of its safety and precautionary measures in anticipation of the strike. He said it would take about a week to get those plants running again, pointing out that the plants were shut down deliberately and in a controlled manner and not as an emergency shutdown and so he expected that the company should be able to restart the plants, although there might be some hiccups along the way as is normal with all process plants.

As the two sides continued negotiations right up to and past the strike deadline of Monday morning, the OWTU set about building its fourteen strike camps across the oil belt with two each in Penal/ Barrackpore; Santa Flora and Forest Reserve and four each at Trinmar and at the Pointe-a-Pierre Refinery. OWTU President General Ancel Roget said the union served strike notice on the company because as far as the union was concerned there was no intention by the company or the Corporation Sole (the Minister of Finance) to settle any of the negotiations for the two periods while agreements had been reached with other workers. He said the union’s aim was not just to secure wage increases for the workers but also to clean up the company and get rid of corruption, poor administration, improve efficiency and safety. He said only when all these things are achieved will the company be able to realise its full potential. He pointed out that over the years from 2011 to 2014 and 2015 Petrotrin had contributed about $16 billion to the national coffers and as much as $60 billion in the years before that.

“So that it has the potential, but the ones who make that potential possible, they are the workers and we maintain, as we have always maintained, that if it is that the workers who would have produced and who would have kept Petrotrin whole despite the fact that it was poorly managed, despite the fact that it was plagued with corruption and still is to some extent, despite the fact that it possessed then and still does at this point, a level of political involvement and patronage and so on, all of which at the end of the day threatens its viability, the only reason why Petrotrin continues to survive is because of the workers who continue to work consistently to ensure that Petrotrin continues to afford itself of the opportunities that comes its way.”

He insisted that for all that the workers ought to be compensated and said he was happy that the union had achieved the first part of an interim settlement on their behalf and would close the negotiations for 2011-2014 by February 28.

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