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posted 13 Dec 2019, 07:19 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 13 Dec 2019, 07:20 ]
It was April 1, 2015 when I was instructed to report to the Yara Plant. I had returned from secondment to the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) after five (5) years of national service with Comrade Roget and his team. The instruction was odd as I was native to the newer Tringen 2 Plant and it would have then taken years to learn the Yara Plant’s systems.

My comrades therefore viewed the decision as retaliation for my role as Labour Relations/ HSE Officer; winning all cases and leading negotiations opposite the same company who almost wholly sponsored the extended period of secondment.

I remember the careful and deliberate walk to the Yara plant. I asked the Lord for wisdom to make the best of what I interpreted to be an arbitrary decision, a curse for being a diligent union officer. The “sweet” scent of traces of ammonia, harmonic noises of compressors, turbines and pumps and firm handshakes comprised my welcome party.

The Plant Manager, Ronald, briefed me in his office. I listened to the challenges and plans to modify the Plant to utilise less energy and produce more ammonia. The plant was also then on a record uninterrupted period of production.

I entered the Control Room to join the “A-Shift” eager to learn and contribute, albeit with a degree of contempt for the inexplicable transfer. I visited the Yara and Tringen 1 plants often as an Operator Trainee since February 2000 and later as OWTU Branch Secretary and knew almost every worker. I was now getting the serendipitous opportunity to be a grafted part of the fabric of the Yara Plant.

Yara’s workers were generally more cohesive than the other two plants. One reason was their system was more manual, demanding cooperation to operate valves which took hours to open or close. Some procedures required 2-3 Operators to be at an equipment or system. They complained of being short-staffed and many letters and meetings were exchanged between union and company to alleviate the hardships.

Increased overtime, a symptom of manpower needs, was taking a toll on their well-being. They adapted to the demands of the aging process plant. Safety and Reliability was atop each shift’s agenda- ever cognizant of the two 1997 fatalities and lessons learnt were shared with workers across the globe.

I observed workers who loved their jobs even amidst continuous threats of impending closure. Sylvan Wilson - former Branch President and OWTU Vice-President - and the senior workers had sculpted a work culture of unity and resilience. Undeniably they were the most militant when upholding collective decisions for the greatest good. But their strength was waning with the changing of the guards and business dynamics.

Mr. de la Bastide championed a US$50M Energy Efficiency upgrade project approved in September 2015. He had toiled on the Yara Plant as a young FedChem Engineer, and as its President was seen walking throughout the Plant in his endeavour to ensure quality workmanship. 4 years ago, he referred to it as a do or die project.

On platforms hundreds of feet above ground workers repaired vessels. They operated high-rotating compressors, pumps and turbines, surrounded by high risk chemicals and fluids at super-heated and sub-zero temperatures. When most would instinctively run from industrial fires, spills, earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding and national states of emergency they held their station to support their family and country.

I was blessed to have shared a year working shoulder to shoulder with Yara Plant’s workers and 18 years at the site. A 60-year-old plant producing around 270,000 tons of Ammonia annually is a commendable achievement. With the threat of mothballing, faith provides 100 blessings for every curse. This rare-breed of skilled workers will be redeployed, assimilated into the two running plants or across the local and international petrochemical industry.

Possibilities abound, having recently sat alongside a Patriot- in the company of Yara’s workers and management- who reiterated their interest and energy to revive and refine ammonia and oil respectively.