Worker absenteeism deemed to be illegal by the National Petroleum Marketing Co Ltd (NP) has had no negative impact on the delivery of fuel to filling stations.
This assurance was given by NP’s corporate communications manager, Rae Gilbert, even as senior executives of the company remained locked in talks late yesterday, discussing what action would be taken against 40 workers.
The workers were suspended with pay yesterday after the company claimed they engaged in a union-sanctioned work stoppage. The company’s chief executive officer, Ken Mohammed, and chairman, Neil Gosine, were among the executives meeting up to late yesterday.
The workers, who attempted to return to work at the Sea Lots, Port of Spain, site were met with closed gates, and security officers handed them suspension letters.
The company called a media conference yesterday evening, but more than 45 minutes later than carded, Gilbert announced the senior managers expected to attend were still held up at the meeting. She read a short statement, saying the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) had “encouraged” the illegal work stoppage.
“The OWTU claims that these unlawful actions were as a result of the company’s intention to privatise its operations. However, this claim is totally unfounded. The training of NP management and staff in the operations at the Pointe-a-Pierre bond was in no way intended to replace permanent employees,” Gilbert said.
She denied the workers walked off the job on Tuesday because they were being asked to train replacement contract workers.
She said while the need to train supplementary staff was not communicated to the workers, it was a common practice and had happened before.
“It is not the first time we have had additional staff trained in gantry operations, so it is not something out of the ordinary. I can’t say at this time, but I believe they were aware,” she said.
She said this action by the union members strengthened the company’s position that more and experienced workers were needed at the bonds.
“Undoubtedly, the unlawful actions taken by the OWTU have resulted in the disruption of service delivery to our customers. This situation could have worsened if the existing management and staff, who were previously trained in gantry operations, did not take control of the gantry and ensure that our mandate to deliver fuel to the nation was met. This further justifies our decision to expand training on the gantry to additional staff,” she said.
Gilbert said the investigation would provide the company with a proper record of who was absent for the four-day duration of the illegal action.
She said despite the more than 40 fewer employees at the site, operations and delivery would not be negatively affected.
“I am not saying it is not going to impact, but we are going to do our best to recover from it; we are going to put things in place,” she said.
She admitted there was a small spill at the filling locations in the gantry but denied it was as a result of a untrained workers.
“A small spill happens. There are no untrained workers at the gantry,” she said.
Gilbert said “as of right now”, there has been no negative impact on the delivery to the filling stations.
OWTU’s second vice-president, Tedd Stapleton, who is responsible for NP members, yesterday denied NP’s claim that the workers were engaging in illegal industrial action.
Stapleton, in a telephone interview, said he made contact with Mohammed three times and even wrote him, citing “unsafe” work conditions at the bonds, but got no reply. He said the OWTU president general, Ancel Roget, also wrote Mohammed yesterday, but again, there was no response.
“We are meeting with our lawyers on this. If the union sanctioned this work stoppage, why would we try to meet with the management?” Stapleton said.