On Friday 17th February, after seventeen hours in a conciliation meeting at the Ministry of Labour in San Fernando between Petrotrin and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union, Petrotrin workers won a 9% wage increase from the state-owned oil company. The settlement effectively breached the government’s 5% wage cap for public sector and state enterprise workers.
The agreement covers the period 2008 to 2011 and covers five bargaining units
The Union had served strike notice on the company on Tuesday 14th February and the strike was carded to begin on the morning of Saturday February 18th. It was a question of who would blink first and the oil workers held their gaze.
Panic buying of gasoline and diesel had already begun and the strike would have disrupted normal activities for the carnival period in the short term and over the long term would have wreaked havoc with the economy and with government revenues. Defence Force troops had already entered the Pointe-A-Pierre refinery and were preparing to commandeer the delivery of fuel.
Observers of the labour movement believe that the many outstanding public sector and state enterprise negotiations will now be rapidly concluded and that Public Service Association’s President Watson Duke will come under heavy pressure from his members for caving in to the government and accepting the 5% for public servants.
Outstanding negotiations include: Government Daily Paid; Port of Spain City Council; San Fernando City Council; PLIPDECO; Teaching Service; Public Transport; Electricity workers: TTPost; National Insurance; MTS among others.
Labour Observers also believe that the focus is going to rapidly shift to government plans to privatise state enterprises and out-source the delivery of public goods to foreign capital, cronies, financiers and friends of the ruling parties.
This struggle against privatisation will be intertwined with new rounds of negotiations in most of the state sector covering the period 2012 going forward.