OWTU PRESIDENT GENERAL: Ancel Roget

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BREAKING NEWS - Petrotrin strike off

By Richard Charan Multimedia Editor

The strike is off.

The Oilfields Workers Trade Union (OWTU) and Petrotrin this morning settled a bitter wage dispute, a day before workers planned to walk off the job.

At around 10 a.m., it was agreed that the workers of the State-owned oil company would accept a nine percent wage increase over three years for the bargaining period 2008-2010.

The deal came after a marathon 16-hour meeting at the Ministry of Labour, St James Street, San Fernando.

At 10.30 a.m., the union signed the terms of settlement on behalf of the five bargaining units it represents.

Under the terms of settlement, the workers will receive their nine percent increase over three years after the consolidation of Cost of Living Allowance (COLA).

President general of the OWTU Ancel Roget is expected to address workers at the union's Paramount Building headquarters to share details of the deal.

The eleventh hour negotiation meeting was chaired by Labour Minister Errol Mc Leod who intervened to help broker a deal before workers abandoned the job at multiple onshore and offshore installations at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

The strike threat was already causing transportation chaos ahead of the Carnival, and would have cost the country untold millions. Since Tuesday, there has been panic buying of fuel across the country, leading to a shortage concentrated in south and central Trinidad, which strained the ability of National Petroleum and Petrotrin to deliver fuel to service stations.

Several service stations remained closed this morning, and there were vehicles in long queues at other stations.

Talks broke down last Friday after company and union could not find common ground on wages.

The union had initially asked for a 75 percent increase over the three-year period, but stated it was willing to settle for less.

However, Petrotrin's vice president Khalid Hassanali said the company's five percent offer, which came with other allowances, was extremely competitive given that Petrotrin workers were already among the highest paid in the energy sector.

Hassanali said offering a double digit increase would imperil the company's financial viability.

Petrotrin also appealed to workers not to join the strike since the country would lose significant revenue, and the shutdown would come at a time when the Gas Optimisation Programme, its Ultra Low Sulphur Deisel project, and key oil winning initiatives at Trinmar were at a crucial stage.

The company also disclosed the existing salaries of some categories of workers to prove the superior compensation packages. With the new agreement, a general labourer will now earn a monthly salary in excess of $12,000, a mechanic in excess of $15,000 and an engineer in excess of $25,000.

The more than 5,000 staff employees of Petrotrin will be entitled to retroactive payments. Company and union will shortly begin salary negotiations for the current bargaining period.

-reporting by Carolyn Kissoon

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