Where we stand‎ > ‎News & Comment‎ > ‎

WHITHER PETROTRIN: THOUSANDS OF JOBS AT STAKE! by Gerry Kangalee

posted 14 Mar 2017, 10:56 by Gerry Kangalee   [ updated 14 Mar 2017, 18:36 ]
Image result for petrotrinGovernment has appointed a seven member committee to make recommendations on the “re-organisation” of Petrotrin. The make-up of the committee provides clues as to what to expect. There are two OWTU representatives on the committee; a human resource practitioner; an academic, a businessman; the former head of the local branch of one of the world’s biggest transnational corporations and a senior public servant.

What is interesting about this whole affair is that the OWTU had already submitted its position on the “re-organisation” to the government and that the document has never been made public. Despite all the talk of “transparency and accountability”, not even the workers at Petrotrin, members of the OWTU, know what have been recommended or who prepared the document.

Petrotrin does not belong to the ruling party but to the people of Trinidad and Tobago and is critical to the short term economic future of the country. The “restructuring” of Petrotrin is not a matter between the union and the government. It is the business of the people of T&T.
Gregory Marchan, former Asst. General Secretary OWTU, member of re-organisation committee

Selwyn Lashley, Perm. Sec. Ministry of Energy. Chairman of the re-organisation committee
All 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. The union has a duty to publish, for all to access, the entire document that was submitted to the government.

The President General of the OWTU, while fulminating against suggestions to privatise the company, has hinted that the union has recommended that Petrotrin be broken up. “...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,” said the trade unionist.

What is meant by separate is not clear. Does it man three “separate” companies should be set up? 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.

David Abdulah, former Gen. Secretary OWTU; leader of the Movement for Social Justice
Any reasonable person would deduce that that would be step number one in the implementation of a strategy of privatisation – a position long propagated by the economic and political elites and the IMF and opposed by the OWTU. Step number two would, of course, be for the State to swallow the losses that Petrotrin has been recently suffering, before putting it on the chopping block. Privateers are not going to acquire liabilities. They want a clean balance sheet. Let the citizens suffer the losses, while they cream off

Robert Riley former BPTT CEO; still employed with BP International
the top!

The National Workers Union in a recently published statement said: “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.” Below the surface the cesspool of privatisation keeps bubbling.

It seems illogical to break up a small company like Petrotrin when it is operating in an 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. – except of course if the plan is to sell off the producing assets to financiers and friends and to get rid of the refinery, as some have recommended.

Helen Drayton, former Executive Director Human Resources Royal Bank

The committee includes former senator Helen Drayton, who, among other things, was Executive Director of
Wilfred Espinet, Chairman of Board, Trinidad Cement Ltd. (soon to be called Cemex)
Human Resources for the RBTT financial group. Her appointment is significant in that when we hear a company is to be restructured we know that job losses will be involved. Petrotrin has close to five thousand workers. Who knows how many will survive the “restructuring”? 

Another significant appointment is that of Wilfred Espinet, Chairman of the Board of Trinidad Cement Ltd., who fought long and hard to make sure transnational Cemex swallowed up Trinidad Cement Ltd. Of course, the takeover was personally lucrative for him.

The most significant appointment of all is that of Robert Riley, former head of BPTT, a transnational corporation that has exploited T&T for years and that over the recent past has engaged in an exploration/production strike designed to force more and more concessions from the government.

The OWTU representatives are former General Secretary, now retired, of the union, David Abdulah and his then Assistant General Secretary, Gregory Marchan. If, as President General Roget has stated, the union’s position is to break up Petrotrin, then Abdulah is expected to argue vociferously for the adoption of that position. He would be banging on an open door wouldn’t he?

Abdulah should be reminded that in 1982, the OWTU submitted a memorandum to the government of Trinidad and Tobago on the
Professor Chandrabhan Sharma, former Board member, T&TEC; Powergen; Iscott, member Republic Bank Board, former Chairman NIDCO
nationalisation of the oil industry entitled Our Fight for People’s Ownership and Control of the Oil Industry The document was published in booklet form and was accessible to all those interested, unlike the OWTU’s latest submission.

Abdulah should also be reminded that, among others, he played a not insignificant role in drafting the 1982 memorandum and that the booklet states on page 61: “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...”

Abdulah must surely be suffering from cognitive dissonance which is the mental stress experienced by a person who simultaneously holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; or when performing an action that contradicts existing beliefs, ideas, or values.

The attack on workers’ job security is stepping up every day, both in the private and public sectors. The outcome of the Petrotrin matter is going to be decisive. There are two options open to the trade union movement. Will the trade union leaderships lead their members in beating back the assault on workers’ ability to mind their families by halting the assault on job security? Will the trade union movement collude with the economic and political elites in ensuring that Labour is further impoverished through the loss of job security so that Capital can continue to reap a growing share of the value produced by labour? 

There are two scenarios that may be acceptable to the economic and political elites, but either one will have a catastrophic impact on oil workers and the country. The first is privatisation of the company with massive job losses and the possible scaling down/shutdown of the Pointe-A-Pierre refinery and the hiving off of Trinmar to political financiers and party hacks. The other is continued state ownership with massive job losses and the possible scaling down/shutdown of the Pointe-A-Pierre refinery. 

All this talk about revolutionary trade unionism by the Joint Trade Union Movement (JTUM) is going to be tested in practice. Talk is cheap. By their deeds ye shall know them! The next few months are going to be critical in determining whether, to paraphrase the late George Weekes, the trade union movement proves to be revolutionary rather than resolutionary.
Comments