The battle lines are drawn and very soon, consumers will face a gas shortage because of the stalled negotiations between Petrotrin and the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU).
OTWU’s president general, Ancel Roget, has already sounded a warning, and Super Minister Stuart Young says Petrotrin has no authority to make an offer to Petrotrin. Really Stuart?
How long would gas remain at service stations if there is a strike by Petrotrin workers? Normally, service stations have three days’ supply, but with a rush for gas, that can run out in two days.
Roget says if this happens, blame it on Finance Minister Colm Imbert for his famous 0-0-0- offer for Government workers.
At the Post-Cabinet press conference on Thursday, Young said Government has not authorized the board or the management of Petrotrin to make any offer of any kind to the OWTU.
Referring to threats of industrial action by the OWTU if it receives a 0-0-0- offer from the company, Young stated, “This Government’s position is that no such offer was made to any union on behalf of the Government or any State enterprise that falls under the authority of the Government. That remains this Government’s position.”
Young said Imbert has advised the Cabinet that Petrotrin and the OWTU have matters currently before the Industrial Court over a breakdown in negotiations between 2011 to 2014 and part of 2015.
“We understand that the Industrial Court is supposed to give its decision early in 2017.” After indicating that Government will await the conclusion of these matters and abide by the Court’s decision, Young said it made no sense for Petrotrin to begin any new wage negotiations with the OWTU until these matters are resolved because “you not able to place a dollar value on it.”
Young said Imbert has also advised Cabinet the company has certain financial arrangements that will become due in 2018 which could run into billions. He said some of those arrangements involve bonds and Government will work with stakeholders to ensure that the rest of Trinidad and Tobago is not placed in financial circumstances that are detrimental to them.
Meanwhile, Roget added, “We hold the Minister of Finance accountable for what will happen next in Petrotrin, we hold the Minister of Finance accountable and responsible in total for any form of austerity measure, any form of IMF conditionality.”
He added, “to suggest that Petrotrin did not have the authority in one way or another to offer 0-0-0-, which coincides with his position, we think it is very deceitful for him at this point in time when it was the Minister of Finance who signaled there would be 0-0-0.”
Roget once again stated the union’s willingness to initiate strike action saying they were “not prepared to go any longer than which is lawfully necessary before we call strike action.” “We don’t want to do it, but we are forced to do it, and when we do it, don’t blame us. The cost of settling these negotiations are wide and sweeping,” Roget added.
He continued, “At the appropriate time, as night would follow day if we did not get the appropriate response, not the one before the court, this issue is not before the Court, the issue which is before the Court is the period 2011-2014.”