PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad (CMC) — The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Monday agreed to a five per cent wage increase for workers at the State-owned oil company, PETROTRIN, averting a 90-day strike within the vital energy sector.
“I am very pleased at the outcome…Trinidad and Tobago can breathe again, the strike has been averted,” Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste Primus told a news conference after the agreement had been signed following 30 hours of talks over the last two days.
She described the accord as “historic” saying “it is reflective of the state of nationalism that abounds in the room that allowed us to arrive at an agreement”.
The union had originally demanded a 10 per cent wage hike for the period 2014-17 and the company offering a zero per cent wage increase over the three years.
The two parties are also at loggerheads over the wage increase for the period 2011-14, which is now before the Industrial Court.
PETROTRIN said that the agreement would cost the company an estimated TT$80 million (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) annually and would come from “our operations”.
OWTU President Ancel Roget told reporters under the agreement, it is hoped that by February 28 “this negotiation for the period 2011-14 will be behind us and therefore the first interim payment of the first five per cent is going to be implemented immediately”.
“The workers are going to receive that payment in the next payroll cycle and we thought that was a tremendous achievement for the start of these negotiations and we look forward to ensure that these negotiations once and for all close at the end of February 2017 where we would have recovered the balance of the percentages that we set out to achieve.”
Roget said that the OWTU had “looked at the whole issue of national interest” as well as the company’s situation “and we said in these negotiations prior to and we will always maintain that the discussions ought not to only centre around wage increases but it has to focus on greater levels of efficiency, safety and ridding PETROTRIN of corruption…”
PETROTRIN President Fitzroy Harewood said “our expectation is that the five per cent will increase our operating expenses by TT$80 million annually” noting that the company had over the past few days made public its financial situation.
In a newspaper advertisement on Sunday, PETROTRIN said it could not meet any salary increase for workers at this time.
In the advertisement titled “Financial Realities”, the company said that its revenue had declined by more than 50 per cent from TT$37 billion (One TT dollar =US$0.16 cents) in 2012 to approximately TT$16 billion last year.
This, coupled with the ongoing decline in refinery margins and declining oil production resulted in the company realising two years of net after tax losses, TT$819 million for fiscal year 2015 and approximately TT$600 million for fiscal 2016 (unaudited),” PETROTRIN added.
It said it is also faced with “a large debt obligation based on financing of previous mega projects, low investment rating and rising capital and investment costs, including what is required for asset Integrity Improvements.
Harewood said that the company would be taking “the strategic decisions to restructure”.