Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

WHAT IS NP UP TO? by Cecil Paul

posted 22 Aug 2013, 21:59 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 22 Aug 2013, 22:02 ]
Cecil Paul is Deputy President of the National Workers Union.
He is a former employee of National Petroleum.
At that company he served as a shop steward and president
of the OWTU branch. He was First Vice President and Chief Labour Relations Officer of the OWTU.
Seventy five National Petroleum (NP) workers were suspended for their refusal “to train new entrants in the system including employees of contractors and managerial personnel …”: this according to NP’s full page Ad in the daily newspapers of Thursday 22nd August 2013. NP has also filed an Industrial Relations Offence against OWTU, the majority bargaining representative of the workers. 

I have been representing workers for some forty odd years from a Shop Steward to Chief Labour Relations Officer and have practiced Industrial Relations at Bi-lateral, Conciliation and at the Industrial Court of Arbitration. I also practised Industrial Relations at NP. Never in all my years of experience have I heard or been a party to a dispute where workers were disciplined for refusing to perform duties outside of their job specification or description except in rare cases of an emergency. 
Even then, mutual agreement is effected. In the language of Industrial Relations, the suspensions of the seventy five workers can be deemed Harsh, Oppressive and Contrary to Good Industrial Relations Practices. 
What NP has done in this dispute is to make job descriptions and job duties null and void and of no effect and has in fact violated the Collective Agreement with the OWTU. This agreement is a contract between the parties and covers the terms and conditions of the NP employees, including their duties. NP, by suspending the workers, has been wrong and strong in taking disciplinary action. They violated the agreement and when met with resistance they punished. 

The Party that should have filed for an Industrial Relations Offence is the Union. The company instructed the workers to train managerial staff and contractor employees. The job of training contractors and managers in gantry operations is not the job of the workers involved. 
If the company wanted to include training in gantry operations they first had to meet and treat with the OWTU on changing the job description including the question of job title, job upgrading and a suitable rate of pay as a result of the added training component. Training is a highly valued skill. 
The question is: why is NP training managers and contractor workers in Gantry Operations? Managers and Contractors have no right to be operating the gantries. The duties and job title of the gantry operators are defined in the collective agreement. 
The gantries at Pointe-a Pierre and Sea Lots are the heart of NP’s operations and are the fuel distribution centres of NP. They are high tech automated systems where Tank Wagons are loaded for delivery to all consumers of fuel. Gantries are also dangerous areas where no-spillage, maximum safety plus fuel correctness and accountability are critical factors in the operations. 

Why this Training of non - gantry workers? Does the company expect industrial action? When was the last strike at NP? Was it in the 1970’s? How long did it last? It is well known in industrial relations circles that due to the nature of NP’s operations work stoppages and strikes are far and few between at the company and short lived. 
Negotiations with NP are usually concluded after the majors and most of the settled items passed on to NP workers. During my service in OWTU, the late George Weekes always ensured that NP and T&TEC workers display a very high level of responsibility and concerns for the public welfare and would only sanction action when “water more than flour”. 

The major issue and question in this dispute is: what is NP’s intention and why their irrational behaviour? Are the Board and Management of T&T National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd. provoking the workers to institute large-scale retrenchment and preparing the company for privatization? NP in the full page Ad mentioned that “the earnings of a Road Tank Wagon Drive inclusive of overtime can be up to $55,000.00 per month.” 

What this exaggerated exception, and not the rule, indicates is that this driver earning this money is working an excessive amount of overtime probably 12 to 15 hours a day including weekends; a tired over-worked employee being allowed to drive a tank wagon filled with potentially explosive product. This is dangerous cargo with the potential to burn to death hundreds of drivers and road travellers including him or herself. 

NP should be ashamed to state this irresponsible act in their Ad. It is clear they need to hire more Tank Wagon drivers. A comparison should be made of the Tank Wagon drivers (contract drivers and NP drivers) on their payroll over the last 15 years against the increase in fuel consumption over the same period. 
Some areas of NP such as Fuel Transport, Finance and Retail have undergone some measure of outsourcing and privatization. Is the gantry filling operations being prepared for outsourcing to contractors? One can only speculate as to the irrational industrial relations practices by NP. 

It is for the OWTU to dig deep into these unjust suspensions, which can only be described as harsh, oppressive and contrary to good industrial relations practices. It is grossly unreasonable to instruct workers to train a managers and contractor employees to do the very job that the workers are doing. 
It is natural that these trainers/workers will have a sense of insecurity; of being used to eventually lose their jobs to the trainees. It is unjust and unfair for any worker(s) to be put in such a self-destructive position, particularly when the company used the same measure (the terminated managers training the incoming dealers) at company operated service stations, which in effect privatised the retail operations.