As the President General of the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Ancel Roget has taken on the persona of an alarmist, extremist and unthinking industrial relations leader.
His best known quotes are “shut dong d’country”, “no growth, no development”, and “struggle”, together with a few other clichés in an attempt to overstate his waning relevance in a changing industrial relations climate and evolving economic circumstances.
His latest rant started on 20 December 2016 when he made an announcement of a yet to happen industrial relations event. One cannot be faulted for wondering if there was an element of spite in his announcement, in the form in took and in the reactions it foretold.
Roget knew that making an announcement of harsh strike action by employees of beleaguered Petrotrin, 20 days before the strike was due would create a flurry of panic, stress and unnecessary anxiety in a population already burdened by severe economic hardships.
Tough words, terrible timing
Let’s give Roget one thing; he has a tough way of talking that appears to call the downtrodden to action. But even with that ‘one point up’, he dips back to zero for his penchant for poor timing and being completely oblivious to the social and economic environment.
Roget’s words on making his unfortunate and ill-timed rant on 20 December 2016 were: “We want to warn the country to prepare for strike because if this does not resolve itself, Christmas or no Christmas, we are going to shut the place down”.
Almost immediately, sections of the population were thrown into panic, evidenced by the long lines at petrol stations and the chatter in just about every small business establishment you visited.
It was clear; action that was still weeks away being announced before one of the most celebrated religious events of the year could quite possibly have been intended to throw a wet blanket over the hope, love, joy and peace citizens desperately wanted to feel in a time of hardship, job losses and impossible food prices.
Even the Trinidad and Tobago Chamber of Industry and Commerce added its voice to the raging threat. On 04 January 2017, the Chamber “strongly condemned” the threat in a public statement.
The TT Chamber reprimanded Roget, stating: “It is wholly irresponsible of the OWTU to take action designed to hold the country to ransom based on their trade union-led agitation for salary increases.”
The business organization suggested that “the key bargaining stakeholders ought to have centred on their dialogue on the survival of the company, as opposed to one side making untenable demands for wage increases.”
The Tobago arm of the TT Chamber weighed in, saying: “The Government, Petrotrin and the union need to come to an amicable situation very quickly to solve this, because we would not like to see a strike action for 30 days, 60 days, or even 90 days, that will cripple the economy of Trinidad and Tobago.”
But no such luck! Roget would have been delighted that his tongue-wagging had its intended effect.
Unfortunately, he did not once give thought to the many struggling families who borrowed money to keep their tanks filled, maxed out credit cards to keep the cupboards stocked, and curtailed family outings and trips all in the name of saving fuel that Roget intends to commandeer and use to hold the country to ransom.
The business of Petrotrin
The Petroleum Company of Trinidad and Tobago (PETROTRIN) was once one of the nation’s most remarkable success stories.
But nine years of PNM governance and a frenzy of bad investments brought the company to its knees, facts which are very well detailed at this blog, which gives a blow by blow of how a leading energy giant became the bastard child of the energy sector.
In May of this year, Petrotrin instigated a plan to reduce the overriding royalty rates it charges oil companies in farm-out and work-over exploration programmes to incentivise them to increase oil production.
But by November, that strategy, together with others, failed to help the company to rise from its knees as it was reported that: “Petrotrin is currently undergoing the annual audit of its financial results for the fiscal year ended 2016 September 30. Preliminary unaudited results indicate a drop in revenue of TT$3.2 billion or 16% compared to the previous year.”
The company’s statement added that unaudited net income improved by TT$286 million or 35% from a net loss of TT$819 million in 2015 to a loss of TT$533 million in 2016. Lower operating expenses helped to reduce the loss from the prior year.
These results were being announced even as Petrotrin’s back is still burdened by two failed investments by former Petrotrin Executive Chairman, Malcolm Jones.
Many will remember the Gas to Liquids (GTL) and Gas Optimisation Project (GOP), failed investments that cost Petrotrin over TT$15Billion, with absolutely no benefit or return on the investments. In fact, the company was so weakened that it’s rating was downgraded by at least one global credit rating agency.
For those who don’t remember the details of wild corruption and unprecedented incompetence, you can refer to this online article which gives tremendous details of how Petrotrin’s dramatic collapse was triggered.
Roget’s ridiculous ranting
Now we come to today, with an economy well into the throes of collapse; fuel prices having been increased twice in under six months; food prices out of control; increasing unemployment; stalled projects; failing small businesses; economic contraction in both the energy and non-energy sectors…Roget believes it is the right time to ‘shut dong d’country’.
And what’s Roget’s mission? The OWTU leader is willing to force this country further down a path of economic chaos because he wants some of the highest paid workers in this country to make even larger salaries.
Saying that Petrotrin workers are among the highest paid in the nation is being no means a stretch or exaggeration. A television report gave a glimpse of what the oil company’s staff make on a monthly basis:
There is a great deal of irony and an almost crass level of greed in this threat to “shut dong d’country” by Roget and gang.
As the public can plainly see, people across the country are the ones who will pay the price of hardship caused by industrial action to pay people at these salaries (table above) more money.
Strike action will inevitably cause the lowest paid workers in this country to suffer the brunt of the action.
Government liable as well
It will also severely impact small business owners and entrepreneurs, the very people this economy needs if it is to breathe new life into its recovery.
And while we now understand the senselessness of Ancel Roget’s threat to shut down a collapsing economy, and we also understand the majority of people who will suffer the brunt of the burden of unstable industrial relations, liability does not only fall on Roget’s shoulders.
The Finance Minister, Colm Imbert took a clearly industrial relations issue and attempted to deflect saying that Petrotrin acted unilaterally and never informed the Government that it was starting negotiations for the 2014-2017 period with the OWTU.
An odd statement from Imbert. While he is not the Energy Minister, he is the Corporation Sole, a role defined by the Ministry of Finance as having responsibilities, managed by the Investments Division, which include:
- Monitoring and Evaluation
- Facilitation Exercises
- Management Activities
- Governance Activities
- Receiver of Revenue
- Auditing Activities
- Rationalization of the State Enterprise Sector
- Divestment Activities
Further, when Imbert spoke at an IMF conference in November 2016 he announced a wage freeze and subsequently claimed that he consulted with stakeholders, including the labour movement. The labour fraternity was taken by surprise.
Some labour leaders said they had absolutely no foreknowledge of the wage freeze, which subsequently became a “wage restraint”.
As Corporation Sole, and given his statement at the IMF conference, it becomes very clear that Imbert should have known that the Petrotrin was preparing to engage the OWTU in negotiations for collective agreements.
Therefore, to say that Petrotrin “did not inform” the Government is a clear demonstration of failure on the part of the Imbert to fully perform his role as Minister of Finance. And it may indicate that he has not been as forthcoming as he should be with the population.
In part two of this series, we explore in depth the main question – given Petrotrin’s continued poor performance, can the company really afford to increase worker salaries and benefits?