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posted 15 Feb 2017, 12:29 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 15 Feb 2017, 12:31 ]

On  2017-02-15, the National Workers Union issued the following statement:

The Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) has submitted a proposal for the “restructuring” of Petrotrin to the government and, according to media reports, preliminary discussions with the government have been held on the proposal. The union has agreed to nominate two persons to a seven member committee appointed by the government to review the operations of the state enterprise and recommend mechanisms for restructuring the company. 

Petrotrin does not belong to whichever political party controls the government. It belongs to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and is critical to the short term economic future of the country. Petrotrin is one of the largest employers in the country; is critical to the service sector in the South and is the third largest taxpayer in the country after NGC and BPTT.

It stands to reason, therefore, that the OWTU, which over the years has distinguished itself as an organisation defending the interests of working people, needs to be as transparent as possible concerning its proposals for restructuring. The union has a duty to publish, for all to access, the entire document that was submitted to the government.

The “restructuring” of Petrotrin cannot simply be a matter between the union and the government, but is of great importance to the welfare of the people of T&T. The OWTU proposals and any other proposals for the restructuring should be as widely debated as possible in keeping with the philosophy of mass participation by the people in the politics of the country, outside of election season.

While, the OWTU proposals are not in the public domain, the Union’s President General has been cited in the media as saying that Petrotrin is top heavy and suggests that “the company’s mega structure be broken into different segments to ensure greater efficiency...Trinmar should be operated on its own. The land operations should be separate and the refinery operations separate for all to deliver on their fullest potential,”

It is a bit puzzling that the OWTU which has strongly and rightly condemned the staffing of management positions in state enterprises with party financiers and political hacks should propose a structure where the company is broken into segments to ensure greater efficiency. On the surface, and not having seen the entire document, this proposal seems to be cutting road for PNM ‘gouti to run. It seems to be more jobs for the boys to feed at the trough.

The union leader says that Trinmar should be separate as should land operations and refinery operations. What is meant by separate is not clear. Does it mean that three “separate” companies should be established? How does this ensure efficiency? If, the state enterprise governance model is flawed, as the union has argued for years, how is dividing the company into smaller segments going to address that problem.

It must be borne in mind that Petrotrin is operating in an international industry dominated by the largest, vertically integrated transnational corporations in the world – companies like BP, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon etc., not to mention the huge state-owned firms like Aramco, Petronas, Petrobras, Statoil etc.

Without having the benefit of accessing the entire OWTU document, it seems that the president general’s utterings suggest a one hundred and eighty degree turn from OWTU’s long-held position as stated in a memorandum submitted to the government of Trinidad and Tobago on the nationalisation of the oil industry in 1982. The document was published in booklet form and was accessible to all those interested. There was no social media in those days.

On page 61 of the booklet, the union states: “
...it is pointless that in a small oil producing and refining country such as ours, to have several separate and distinct companies carrying out their operations.

The National Workers Union (NWU) respects the OWTU’s right to change policy over the years, but the reasons for those changes, as they affect the interests of working people, should be explained. 

The National Workers Union, therefore, urges the OWTU to publish its proposals for the “restructuring” of Petrotrin, so that the information becomes available to the public and the debate about the short term future of the hydrocarbon industry and the economy of T&T can begin. Anything short of the OWTU publicising its proposals may be viewed as birds of a feather scratching each other's back.

Gerry Kangalee (National Education and Research Officer). Cell: 785-7637