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Court order within our rights

Petrotrin president denies lockout claim by union leader:

By Carolyn Kissoon and Renuka Singh

PETROTRIN president Khalid Hassanali believes good sense will prevail and operations will soon return to normal at the State oil company, which was crippled by industrial action for a week until a court order on Tuesday sent workers back to the jobsite on Wednesday.

However, president general of the Oilfields Workers' Trade Union Ancel Roget said yesterday the matters were far from being resolved.

He charged yesterday that employees at Petrotrin were being barred from returning to their jobs.

Roget, in a telephone interview yesterday, said even after being ordered back to their jobs by the Industrial Court on Tuesday, workers in the bond area were blocked from entering the compound, and workers who remained on the job during the seven-day strike were not being allowed to leave.

The lockout added to an already "volatile" situation at Petrotrin since workers were being monitored by armed army personnel, he claimed.

Roget said the union lodged a complaint with Hassanali.

In a brief telephone interview yesterday, Hassanali confirmed that complaint but said the workers were not being deliberately locked out.

"There is no lockout. The work is transitioning. That matter has already been addressed," he said.

Earlier yesterday, Hassanali said the company acted within the terms of the Industrial Relations Act when it applied to the Industrial Court for an injunction to cease work stoppage.

The workers were ordered to return to work on Wednesday, following seven days of industrial action that the company said cost $100 million a day in lost revenue.

Speaking at an Energy Chamber luncheon at the Cara Suites hotel in Claxton Bay yesterday, Hassanali said, "What the company has done is act within the terms of our collective agreement. We believe in the sanctity of contracts and we also believe in the process of dispute resolution.

"Our collective agreement and the institutes that surround it provide adequate avenues for settling disputes, and that is the approach that we are taking. That is why we went to court and we didn't take any other form of action."

Hassanali said the company's move should be used as an example by others.

Both parties are expected to return to court this morning.

"I was in conference with our attorneys. It's summons for direction; the court will set certain timetables for presentation of documents, affidavits, arguments, evidence. The injunction is in place," he said.

But Roget is convinced it will take more than a court order to return to a viable oil company.

He said workers were disgruntled and disenchanted but complied with the court order to return to work.

The workers were protesting alleged political interference in the hiring and promotion practices at Petrotrin and outstanding variable payments.

Roget explained the variable pay was agreed for the period 2009/2010.

"The company was unable to pay the 20 or 25 per cent at that time, not even 15 per cent.

So we agreed to take a basic rate and take a risk with you. We said once profit is declared at the end of your financial year, after paying all your taxes and so on, taking out all expenses after your account has been audited, you then take out, in addition, $100 million. And then whatever is left, take out 15 per cent of that and divide it equally among all of the workers.

It is all of the workers who, at the end of the day, contribute to you declaring a profit in the first place," he said.

Petrotrin, however, insisted that based on audited financial statements for the period, there was a loss. And based on the collective bargaining agreement—signed by both the company and the union—there was no variable pay due since there was no profit declared.

Roget said an estimated $145 million in variable pay was owed to the workers. • See Page 23

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