More than a billion to pay off workers …”WHERE THE MONEY?”

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Days after taking a decision to close the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery and fire 2,600 workers, now the Government is looking for more than a billion dollars to settle the debt.

Where the money coming from? How long would it take to pay the workers?

Hear Minister of Energy Franklin Khan, “We haven’t worked it out fully yet but the figure will be huge, significantly more than a billion dollars.”

On Tuesday, Petrotrin’s board confirmed plans to close the company’s refinery in October in a move which will cause the loss of 2,600 permanent jobs. But OWTU president general Ancel Roget has called on Government to rescind the decision and call an election or face chaos.

Khan responded, “Mr Roget represents a trade union that seeks to represent workers as it sees fit. Trinidad and Tobago is based on law and order and any action they take, once legal, is acceptable. But if it’s illegal, the state would have to act. So no, we’re not rescinding the decision.”

Roget insisted that he wasn’t told of the closure at a recent meeting with Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, Khan replied, “Yes, he was told. I was at the meeting. The meeting’s minutes will show the Prime Minister indicated in no uncertain terms to Mr Roget that Petrotrin will be getting out of the refining business. As to why he didn’t communicate that to his membership at that point in time, that’s his call, not mine.”

Khan said, ‘All the costs are being worked out as we speak. A lot of milling through of numbers has to be done. We’ll be offering an early retirement plan for people over 55, pay them off and they’ll have their full pension. Then we’ll have an exit package, I don’t want to call it severance, for younger workers. That formula is still being worked out.

“But the termination benefit figure will be huge, significantly more than a billion dollars, since the base salary of Petrotrin is big. Any calculation will be based on base salary.

“We’ve said we were left with no other choice to save putting the economy at risk. However, no matter what spin you put on it, there are 3,000-2,500 families who will be affected. I’m very much conscious of this and so is the Prime Minister.

“I know most of those workers! I supervised some of them in my career. I feel great empathy for them. That’s why we’re working out proper packages for them. We also hope the spin-off effects for places like Marabella will be something like what happened in Couva and Chaguanas in the post-Caroni era.

“If you have to meet that cost you may probably have to borrow it or something like that. But it’s the only way out of this, you just cannot send people home without anything.”

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