Sunday, February 18, 2018

FUEL FALLOUT

Protesting NP workers warn of shortages as panic buying continues

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PRESSURE at the pump could continue until the end of the week and workers at State-owned National Petroleum (NP) intend to remain off the job.

The news of the stand-off between workers and management has put the already over-burdened delivery system under more strain as workers are now demanding a road-worthiness assessment of all delivery trucks and wagons—State-owned and contractor-owned.

Since Friday, motorists have been panic-buying fuel, shutting down several gas stations across the country, and causing long lines at others. Managers at the company took up duties last weekend to fill delivery tankers and workers claimed they were locked out, a claim a denied by the company.

Energy Minister Carolyn Seepersad-Bachan, in a statement yesterday, down-played the situation, saying that 80 loads of fuel left the Sea Lots compound up to 1 p.m.

"There exists no shortage of fuel and supplies will continue to be delivered," she said in a media statement.

"At the moment, loads continue to leave the NP Sea Lots compound for distribution in the North and East-West Corridor. UNIPET (United Independent Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd) is also filling from the Bond at Pointe-a-Pierre to service the Central and Southern regions of Trinidad. Tobago has remained unaffected by industrial action," she said.

But hours later Oilfields Workers' Trade Union president general Ancel Roget made the announcement of the worsening situation after a seven-and-a-half-hour meeting with NP officials, at Sea Lots.

Roget said the union has requested an audit of all contractor vehicles as well as vehicles owned by National Petroleum —extending the current gas delivery situation until the end of this week.

Roget said the audit, which began last night, has "wider implications" for the public.

"It is an inconvenience that the motoring public will continue to have to bear for us to ensure a safe operation at NP here," he said.

Roget said until the company completed the audit outlined in the new agreement, "things will continue to be anything but normal".

"By end of this week we will have audited all of NP's facilities to ensure it is safe for the workers," he said.

"Once we have satisfied that all those things in place, audit of facilities, then we can begin to effect a resumption of work. We can have a phased-in approach, when those requirements are met, " he said.

He said facilities in Pointe-a-Pierre, Piarco and Tobago were expected to begin today.

In a short telephone interview after the meeting with company officials yesterday, Seepersad-Bachan said as far as she knows the workers were expected to be back on the job today.

She said she was kept updated on the meeting and understood that as long as the health, safety and environment issues were addressed the workers would be back on the job.

She said the audit will not hamper the delivery of fuel to stations across the country.

"The audit on the vehicles will happen as they come in for fuel, we will not be pulling trucks off the road for the audit," she said.

Seepersad-Bachan said the entire audit process should last "a few days at most" and said the contingency plan will remain in place until the workers were back on the job.