Oil workers strike in Trinidad

Striking workers tried to break down the gates of the Petrotrin administration building yesterday as protest action escalated over non-payment of profit sharing.

Submitted by Ed on February 4, 2009

President general of the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), Ancil Roget, led the workers in a march outside the Petrotrin refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre as he warned the public, “Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a rotten ride.”

The all-day demonstration crippled exploration and production operations in Santa Flora, Guayaguayare, Penal, Barrackpore, Forest Reserve, Trinmar and Point Fortin. The riot squad officers were called out when hundreds of workers gathered outside Petrotrin's administration building in Pointe-a-Pierre from 7am.

Trinmar workers used a wooden coffin in the demonstration to depict the alleged strangulation of the company. Police kept close watch over the demonstrators as they beat drums and chanted. Although the Petrotrin refinery operated with minimal staff, Roget warned that the protest will escalate step by step until Petrotrin’s management agreed to pay profit sharing to workers. He accused Petrotrin’s management of making a unilateral decision not to pay profit sharing for the 2007-2008 period. Roget said the company planned to make the payments over a three year period. However, he said workers did not trust this arrangement, as the company had reneged on promises in the past. Each of the company's employees was expected to get a cheque for $60,000 last month.

While his colleagues waved flags around him and sang, “We want we money, before they buss the company,” Roget said that Petrotrin’s 5,500 workers made a sacrifice to accept a lower wage in exchange for profit sharing.

“Profit sharing is part of the compensation for employees to take lower wages instead of increases and for workers to share risks in exchange for a small percentage of the profits that Petrotrin earned. Now they are being told that they cannot get the money now,” Roget said.

He said, “This is not new money that the union is asking for. It is money that these workers are entitled to get based on the profits that Petrotrin made for the 2007 and 2008 period,” Roget said.

“Petrotrin like a lot of State enterprises is not being accountable. We are not going to stand for that,” Roget said. He said the union will lobby for the total removal of all of Petrotrin’s executive. “They (Petrotrin) saying they have no money, yet they have created two redundant top positions. They have created the post of vice president, president and executive president and we are saying that we will not allow the workers of Petrotrin to be robbed of what is owed to them,” Roget said. Petrotrin’s communications manager, Arnold Corneal, could not be reached for comment as calls to his cellular and office lines went unanswered.