The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Friday announced plans to stage a “mother of all marches” to protest the decision of the Trinidad and Tobago government to shut down the refinery of the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN later this year.
OWTU president general Ancel Roget said that the march on Wednesday and culminating on Friday next week would begin from the site of the oil refinery at Point a Pierre in south Trinidad and end at the Brian Lara Promenade in the heart of the capital.
Roget, flanked by the leadership of the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) and the National Trade Union Centre of Trinidad and Tobago (NATUC), said that the unions are “very much concerned as to what is going to happen to Trinidad and Tobago when the government closes down PETROTRIN.
“If we did not know before we want to highlight the government is about to close down a major revenue stream and put some 9,000 workers in the first instance out of a bread …and ultimately it is going to affect the economy of Trinidad and Tobago,’ Roget told reporters.
Earlier this week, the Keith Rowley government maintained its position to shut down the oil refinery, even as the main opposition United National Congress (UNC) held talks with the OWTU on plans to keep it functioning.
Speaking in Parliament, Prime Minister Rowley said while he is not aware that the company had received any other proposal, apart from the one from the OWTU to keep the refinery operational, he was nonetheless “aware that there are other persons who might have been indicating that they would have an interest in the event that the refinery becomes available for consideration.”.
“A refinery can attract attention from any person from anywhere and what we are saying we are open to see what is available once the asset has become separated from the business of PETROTRIN as a separate entity.
“So any discussion on this matter is a discussion about the refinery as a stand-alone item,” Rowley told legislators.
The government has said that the company is losing billions of dollars (One TT dollar=US$0.16 cents) annually and PETROTRIN chairman, Wilfred spinet said that all employees would be put on the breadline when the company shuts down its loss making oil refinery.
Espinet said that there’s a 3,400 permanent workforce in PETROTRIN (but) “if you ask me today how many employees we have in PETROTRIN I could not tell you because….that’s a number that keeps moving in the temporary workforce all the time on a daily basis.
“In fact it could operate twice or three times a day given that you have three different shifts,” he added.
Roget predicts that the march “is going to be big, it is going to be huge and we are inviting the public to be part of it.
“The real march that we will have and we don’t want you to miss out is the one…next week Friday”.
President of the Public Service Association, Watson Duke, said that his union and NATUC are pledging solidarity with the OWTU and the workers.
“We believe that we need to do something. We cannot just standby and engage in wishful thinking. We have to do something,” he said, adding “we need to say to the nation in this democracy we object to what the government is doing”.
“What you will be witnessing on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday is a demonstration of our feelings of discontent and dissatisfaction with the decision to end the lives of all PETROTRIN workers in so far as employment is concerned,” Duke said.