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posted 2 Oct 2018, 13:22 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 2 Oct 2018, 13:22 ]
Cecil Paul
(retired oil worker NP 45 years service; former 1st. vice president and chief labour relations officer OWTU)
Trinidad and Tobago in colonial times and during our current independence period has been a petroleum dependent economy. From on-shore to off -shore production and refining at two major refineries at Pointe- a Pierre and Point Fortin. As a result of this blessing our country has been able to provide many subsidies, social welfare, health and education benefits for our people. We have also been able to assist our Caribbean cousins in their times of need.

Despite being short changed by the transnationals over the years our Unions in the Industry, our technocrats and progressive political groups were able to extract benefits through wage increases, jobs for children, training, social and educational development for workers and their families plus the people in the Oil communities.

An enlightened post- independence movement and the discovery of oil in the North Sea created a state owned control of the commanding heights of our economy – the nationalization of the oil industry in Trinidad and Tobago with Texaco the last to go. The politicians were in charge and now receiving and managing petro dollars.

Over time, changes like consolidating and integrating were made to the point where one company Petrotrin was managing all the on- shore operation then the Soldado off- shore production was integrated. The Point Fortin refinery was also closed. This was the largest national company, paying good salaries negotiated by the Union, earning the largest share of foreign exchange, supporting the communities in the south such as suppliers, contractors, businesses of all sizes, contract and casual workers et al.

In fact, before the Point Lisas project, Petrotrin operations with the refinery demand pushing other areas was the largest national company. Oil wages pushed up other wages in all sectors of the economy where most are on minimum wages; improving our national standard of living in other areas. Not only the Petrotrin workers and the South benefitted but the entire national community through the economic law of circulation of money and its multiplier effect. So that it is inevitable the Petrotrin Refinery closure will create a major national economic impact and certainly dire consequences for all citizens of Trinidad and Tobago.

The government has stated that large debts from badly upgraded plant and machinery decisions and losses from refining costs of imported fuels are the major reasons. But when were these inefficiencies discovered and why these problems were not corrected and brought to the attention of the people by the government who are merely the trustees for the people. But from all information being aired on this national crisis the real reasons are corruption in the debt issue, in the procurement of inputs, in contracts, in oil stealing from work-over wells, mismanagement by party hacks from both sides, nepotism in hiring practices by both parties putting wrong persons in major positions and gross lack of maintenance.

Over the years our politics have seen an interchange of parties in government. State entities are used by our politicians for electoral support, to secure campaign finances and to win elections. Our state enterprises have become a den of political vipers of all parties and the major instruments to reward friends, political supporters and party financiers. All politicians are guilty; all are to blame for the Petrotrin crisis your representatives created. The politicians of both parties broke it and must now fix it or pay a heavy price from the wrath of the people. Remember our history of revolt and struggle for what is right. We are a mature, educated and no nonsense populace. Don’t tell us lies in trying to give away our national patrimony which we fought hard to acquire to financiers.

It is unfortunate that some working people are blaming the OWTU. The role of the union is to negotiate the best terms and conditions of employment for its members. The OWTU is not the management, its role is to protect the workers from victimization and handle their grievances. Working people need to remember the historical role of Trade Unions in improving the living standard and defending and promoting the rights of working people. Where would we be today (in terms of our economic welfare, voting and democratic rights) if not for the Trade Unions struggles? Be careful we do not destroy our major defense organization.

The Petrotrin Refinery closure will have a Social Impact dimension, due to a rise in unemployment in all sectors of our economy and a reduction in government revenues from taxation and foreign exchange earnings. It can affect crime rates, the social services like education, health, jobs for our weakest segments will be impacted. There will be increases in the cost of living due to devaluation and other social negatives. Water and Electricity rates will be an issue, so too will fuel prices and the possibility of fuel supplies instability due to imports.

Organizations in Trinbago must get together, discuss and make demands that Petrotrin Refinery and its problems must be urgently corrected such as:

· An Organizationally Restructured Management based on advice from experts experienced in refinery operations.

· An Audit of the Refinery Plants and Operations and the implementation of corrective measures.

· Consultations with financial experts on resolving the Refinery debts.

· Implementation of a continuous maintenance programme.

· Explore the possibility of high grade crude off shore as per AMOCO past operations.

· Request full disclosure and national decision making on the refinery’s future as the closure has national implications.

Based on public comment there is wide dissatisfaction with the decision to close the refinery. The government’s decision can be reversed if we, the people, who are sovereign, take a strong position in the national interest.