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UNC joins union protest march today

OWTU staff members Sandra Modeste-Gay right, and Carliza Remy prepare placards for today’s Mother of All Marches, which starts at the Point-a-Pierre roundabout and ends at Rienzi Complex in Couva. Photo by:Roberto Codallo

From courtroom to highway today.

After the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) filed Industrial Court action yesterday to block Petrotrin’s termination of workers, the union hits the road today on a three-day march from south to north.

OWTU Education/Research officer Ozzi Warwick yesterday said those undertaking the march will largely be OWTU general council members plus labour leaders. The first leg begins at 9 am from the Pointe-a-Pierre roundabout.

United National Congress whip David Lee said he and other UNC MPs will accompany OWTU members from the start in Pointe-a-Pierre, which is his constituency. Various UNC MPs will participate during each leg of the march.

Movement for Social Justice leader David Abdulah said he and MSJ members will also join for the three days.

From Pointe-a-Pierre, today’s first leg involves stops at Trinidad Cement Limited, T&T Electricity Commission, Pt Lisas, Powergen and Yarra.

“Workers will be waiting along stops to greet us,” Warwick added.

The first leg ends at Rienzi Complex in Couva at 4 pm. Marchers will then overnight at Rienzi.

Tomorrow’s 31-kilometre leg takes marchers through Central Trinidad without stop, while Friday’s last leg begins from 10 am at Aranguez Savannah, San Juan.

“On Friday, we’re calling on all concerned citizens to join the last leg of the march into Brian Lara Promenade in Port-of-Spain. We may also pass round by the Parliament,” Warwick said.

UNC’s Lee said, “Government’s Budget failed on the Petrotrin aspect. Finance Minister Colm Imbert dangled a $2.6 billion severance package for workers but didn’t say how this would be funded and gave no specifics on employment for fenceline communities. He didn’t say how they’d meet the August 2019 bullet repayment for the (US)$850m bond. His line about doing it their ‘way’ was pure PNM arrogance—disregarding how people feel.”

UNC Couva South MP Rudy Indarsingh, who will also be on the march, added, “We don’t know how Imbert arrived at the $2.6 billion severance package figure, whether it is based on the collective agreement. Explanations are also needed since OWTU says there are 9,000 Petrotrin workers though Imbert only spoke of VSEP for 1,400 and about a few hundred others. Nor have we heard if workers will have to retool to source jobs he says are being created in other industries.”

At a media briefing yesterday, Imbert—commenting on OWTU’s bid to lease the refinery—said it was highly unlikely the union had found someone with the necessary $6 billion in foreign exchange to give Petrotrin without restructuring and required refinery closure.

“Petrotrin’s been losing $2b annually since 2011. It hasn’t paid taxes and royalties totalling $3.5 billion. A year ago KPMG auditors admitted it would never be profitable. This can’t continue. Everyone—even the UNC—knew it is unprofitable, but it is a politically sensitive issue.”

He expects Petrotrin will be handling workers’ termination benefits packages, which he said are double the industry standard. He said he hoped Petrotrin did not approach the Finance Ministry for this. He said the package would comprise one year’s losses and halting this would mean money could be recovered in a second year.

He added that refinancing for the August 2019 bond repayment is being handled by Petrotrin and he is confident it would be successful since restructuring/refinery closure had begun.

Imbert said jobs for workers with La Brea’s China Harbour project would start from this year. He also cited other opportunities via the Beijing Construction Couva Industrial Park, San Fernando Waterfront project and Skinner Park development between 2018/19.

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