(T&T GUARDIAN) — Hold your hand—the OWTU (Oilfield Workers Trade Union) has an alternative plan.
That’s the 11th-hour call to Government from the OWTU regarding Government’s decision to close Petrotrin’s refinery.
OWTU, which has been holding meetings with workers and other agencies over last Friday and yesterday, made its call on the eve of Prime Minister Keith Rowley’s address to the nation tonight on the Petrotrin issue.
Petrotrin’s Board last week announced closure plans. Some 2,700 workers are at issue in the matter though Petrotrin indicated 1,000 can reapply to be rehired. However, 1,700 will be “axed”. Energy Minister Franklin Khan estimates workers’ termination benefits would cost “significantly more” than $1 billion. Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet said Petrotrin will foot the bill and will have to find the money.
Finance Ministry officials explained to the Guardian that the refinery costs the State over $2b annually and if that cost was removed, Petrotrin will be able to raise financing—by borrowing—to meet workers’ settlement. They said borrowing would be the only way to handle it.
OWTU’s’ Chief Education/Research officer Ozzie Warwick—replying to the Guardian’s questions yesterday—said the union received no information on which workers will form part of the 1,700 “to go”, who may get the early retirement/full pension plan being proposed by Government or further details.
Despite Government reaching as far as estimating the size of termination benefits, Warwick said “We’re not giving up, we still hold hope this decision can be changed. We’ve told workers this refinery closure isn’t the only choice Government has. There are other options. We have a strategic document to show what other options exist and T&T won’t have to lose energy sovereignty to external, foreign sources to supply fuel needs as Government plans—that will only increase fuel prices and the cost of living overall.”Warwick said OWTU’s plan was based on some of its recommendations to the Selwyn Lashley team which
reviewed Petrotrin’s operation in 2017. After that team’s report, however, Petrotrin’s Board was mandated in December 2017 to present to Cabinet a restructuring plan. Warwick maintained OWTU wasn’t told of refinery-closure plans.
Warwick said, “Our plan focused in detail on increased productivity, accountability, and achieving production targets, with employees taking full responsibility for performance. We examined Petrotrin as a whole. It couldn’t be viable and profitable in the current structure as you don’t run an integrated company with one management.
“Our focus was major restructuring into three business units of a new governance model—Refining/Marketing, with its own management; Land/other business units with Trinmar; and separation of the hospital into an entity to be run by a medical board.”
Plans also address quick-win projects yielding an additional 2,000 barrels of oil daily and multiple other initiatives in land and offshore areas. Increasing refinery efficiencies and reviewing whom T&T imports crude from is among aspects.
Warwick noted the Lashley team agreed with the union’s recommendations. “It’s strange it didn’t recommend closing the refinery. But our plan will ensure Petrotrin’s survivability. It’ll be fine-tuned this week.”
Potentially affected—welders to shipping workers
Warwick said “If this closure is forced by the fact that Government has to pay US loans for Petrotrin from next year, how can they find billions to pay off workers, yet can’t get the same money to pay the loans?
“The public also needs to know what will be done with the billions of dollars worth of refinery assets if it closes. It can’t sit there as these assets depreciate quickly if unused. Will assets be sold? Is the fact that some business groups agree with the closure, indication the private sector has a role to play later?”
OWTU figures indicate the refinery has 23 plants with 2,200 permanent workers plus 800 casual/temporary workers.
The figures include 300 operators, 150 maintenance workers, plus shop area craftsmen, welders, electrical and mechanical workers, pump operators, electrical instrument operators, oil stock workers, marine/shipping workers.
Warwick admitting OWTU will be affected by the closure, said it was a form of “union busting”.
OWTU is holding a meeting with workers on Monday evening.