T&T trade union calls on gov’t to rescind decision to shut down oil refinery

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PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Federation of Independent Trade Unions and Non-Governmental Organisations (FITUN) Wednesday demanded that the Trinidad and Tobago government rescind a decision to shut down the refinery at the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN.

“FITUN, demands that the Prime Minister and his government immediately rescind their ill-advised and hastily taken decision to shut down the oil refinery at PETROTRIN. From all reports emanating so far, it is clear that the government has abandoned their publicly stated position of consultation and engagement with the recognised majority union at PETROTRIN, the OWTU (Oilfield Workers trade Union) and has engaged in “One Manism and Governance by Arrogance,” FITUN said in a statement.

PETROTRIN, Tuesday defended the decision to end the company’s oil-refining operations, saying that it is undertaking a restructuring exercise aimed at curtailing the billions of dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) in losses.

PETROTRIN chairman, Wilfred Espinet, in a statement following a meeting with the OWTU, said the company was now redesigning entirely its exploration and production business.

“The restructuring exercise is geared to curtail losses at the state owned oil company and get it on a path to sustainable profitability. Approximately 2,600 permanent jobs will be affected – the redesigned exploration and production business will have approximately 800 workers and all 1,700 jobs in refining will be terminated,” he said.

Espinet said that PETROTRIN is committed to cushioning the effects of any fallout that occurs from the planned changes and that Tuesday’s announcement follows months of careful review and analysis by the board of directors, appointed last September to identify the problems at company and take the steps necessary to make it self-sustainable and profitable.

“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”.

But in its statement, FITUN said the decision to shut down the refinery “is not backed by any sound and cogent financial, economical and social analysis and arguments.

“How can a government in a sovereign nation that is on the eve of celebrating 56 years as an Independent nation, take such an unpatriotic decision based on the advice of a foreign consultancy firm. This seems to have placed us right back to the days when our energy sector was in the hands of the colonial masters,” said FITUN.

The umbrella trade union organisation said that it is urging the country to “step back and take note of some of the reasons for the current state of PETROTRIN,” adding it recalls the union raising concerns with respect to several financial issues by previous governments.

“FITUN would like to reiterate that we duly believe that the OWTU has proffered very reliable and meaningful recommendations on the restructuring of PETROTRIN, which would have seen the maintenance of the refinery operations in a restructured and reengineered company, which would have been viable and sustainable.”

The union grouping is calling on Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley to instruct the company’s board of directors to “put an immediate hold on this ill-timed and ill-advised decision and follow the principles of good and proper industrial relations practices and engage the OWTU in meaningful discussions aimed at resolving this very critical socio-economic issue.”

It warned that the fallout from the decision to close down the refinery coupled with other similar actions in the private and public sectors “can only add fuel to the already toxic and rampant social decay and the attendant rampant crime situation.

“A word to the wise is sufficient,” it added.

Meanwhile, the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) is due to meet later on Wednesday to discuss the closure of the refinery.

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