Prepare for pressure over problems at NP
This week’s firing of 68 employees from State-owned National Petroleum can be expected, at this politically charged period in Trinidad and Tobago, to ratchet up tensions to possibly disruptive pitch.
In a press release issued last Tuesday, NP cited 20 work stoppages over two years, claiming that each day of no work, caused by agitation and incitement from the Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU), cost $9.5 million. That works out to almost one work stoppage per month, for a total loss of $190 million in national revenue. Clearly, no business can operate efficiently under such circumstances.
On the other hand, the OWTU says that the workers’ actions were well justified on safety grounds. Union leader Ancel Roget claims that, according to a report from the Occupational Safety and Health Agency (OSHA), the company has been cited for 19 violations up to September 23 of this year. NP, in its turn, says that five OSH inspections were conducted between August and September and that these “did not trigger the issuance of an improvement or a prohibition notice as is mandated in cases of serious or imminent danger in accordance with Section 74 of the OSH Act.”
NP also noted media reports in which the union cited privatisation, not safety, as the cause for industrial action. Here the trade union’s rhetoric may have played into the hands of NP. After all, it is a stretch to consider “privatisation”, assuming it is at all on the cards, a justifiable ground for industrial action. That union leaders still consider such buzzwords an effective way to get worker and public support demonstrates how mired they are in the swamp of outdated ideology.
Mr Roget has also played the specious trump card of political spitefulness, asserting that the 68 fired workers were all PNM supporters (a claim which he has presumably verified with said workers). But that play can be readily trumped since, if 68 of the 85 workers who took industrial action were indeed PNM supporters, this might call into question their motive for downing tools. Indeed, union workers themselves, not for the first time, might legitimately question the OWTU’s strategy, which in theory should be shaped exclusively by long-term benefits for the majority of workers, and certainly not by party politicking.
In the midst of this ongoing dispute, it will be the ordinary citizens who, as usual, bear the brunt of power plays. As the national supplier of domestic, transport and industrial fuel becomes an industrial relations battleground, NP employees and even the trade union members will know beforehand how to prepare for whatever action is forthcoming. The rest of us will have to catch as best we can.