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(CMC) – The Court of Appeal late Thursday evening removed an injunction granted to the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) that had prevented the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN from dismissing workers as it shuts down its operations as part of a restructuring exercise.
Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Justices of Appeal Allan Mendonca and Andre des Vignes in their oral ruling late Thursday night discharged the injunction that had been granted to the union on October 8, by the Industrial Court.
PETROTRIN attorneys led by Senior Counsel Reginald Armour had urged the Appeal Court not to be seduced by the argument of the union, telling the judges that they should consider the grim reality of the company’s financial standing and its possible impact on the economy.
But Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, the lead lawyer for the union, argued that the union was being weakened as the recognised bargaining agent for workers.
Chief Justice Archie, who delivered the ruling on behalf of the three-member court, said the Industrial Court failed to demonstrate that it properly considered evidence on the national economic impact of PETROTRIN and what was likely to happen if the injunction stayed in place, including a downgrade of this country’s credit rating and the possibility of creditors seeking to have the company liquidated.
PETROTRIN had argued that the Industrial Court did not have the jurisdiction to grant injunctions. But while it was successful in having the injunction discharged, the Appeal Court did not support the arguments that the Industrial Court did not have the jurisdiction to grant injunctions.
The judges said that their written ruling will be given at month end.
The OWTU had been granted the injunction preventing the company from terminating its estimated 5,500 workforce as part of the restructuring exercise. But last week, High Court judge Charmaine Pemberton put a hold on the injunctions, clearing the way for PETRORIN to continue issuing termination letters. The OWTU has been contending that PETROTRIN acted in bad faith when it failed to meet with the union ve before meeting with the Cabinet, during which it was decided that it would be in the best interest of the country to shut down the company.
OWTU president Ancil Roget told reporters following the court ruling that the court’s decision on the jurisdiction point was “significant” to the labour movement and workers.
He said he was also heartened by the pronouncement of the appellate court that the Industrial Court had the power to reverse any decision of the company if it is found in breach of an industrial relations offence.
“We look forward to our day court,” he said, insisting that the only reason PETROTRIN was facing closure was to get rid of the OWTU after it gave the government a poor performance report.
“Government’s performance has fallen today,” he said, warning that it would pay a critical price in time to come.
Earlier this week, the union presented a proposal for the “rescuing” of the refinery and said it intends to submit its proposal to the board by next week when its bankers and other key persons in the proposed plan arrive in the country.
He said the OWTU’s proposal was not only to save the jobs at the company but for the benefit of the entire country as it will earn much needed foreign exchange.
Meanwhile, the Trinidad and Tobago government has announced the establishment of a new state company, Guaracara Refining Company, into which the assets of the oil refinery will be placed.
The government has already indicated that it was shutting down the company after indicating that it was losing billions of dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) annually.
Energy Minster Franklin Khan, speaking at the end of the Cabinet meeting on Thursday, said that the refinery is scheduled to be closed by next month, and after the assets have been transferred to Guaracara, the new company will advertise a “very broad” request for proposals (RFP).
“Everything will be open for discussion. At the end of the day, we feel we will get a proposal that is acceptable where we will no longer have this albatross around our neck called the refinery, but the assets can still be used in a productive way for the benefit of Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Guaracara is one of five new companies created as part of the restructuring of state oil company.
The others are Heritage Petroleum Company Ltd and Paria Fuel Trading Company, which will handle exploration and production and trading and marketing, respectively.
PETROTRIN as an entity will remain as a company to deal with legacy matters, and these will all be placed into one, Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd.
Khan said a vesting order was being prepared to transfer PETROTRIN’s exploration and production assets to Heritage and the terminal, port and pier assets to Paria. There will also be an assignment of exploration and production licences under the name of PETROTRIN at the Ministry of Energy to Heritage.
“The transformation process is well on its way and going smoothly,” Khan said, adding that the government hopes to have the new companies operationalized by the end of this year.
“All things being equal, 2019 will be a brand new year for the energy sector in TT,” he said.