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Trinidad and Tobago unions unite in opposition to refinery sell off plan

5 September, 2018Unions in Trinidad and Tobago are calling for a national shutdown this Friday against government plans to close the Petrotrin refinery. A government minister has warned that workers who take action could be fined or imprisoned.

Battle lines have been drawn and the rhetoric has heated up in the battle over Trinidad and Tobago’s only refinery, publicly owned by state oil company Petrotrin. The Caribbean nation faces a major industrial relations crisis as unions threaten to shut down the economy this Friday. Last week, the government announced that it would close the refinery with the loss of 2,500 jobs.

Workers at the refinery are represented by IndustriALL Global Union affiliate the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU). OWTU angrily rejected an offer made by government on Sunday that the union prevent the closure of the refinery by buying it themselves, calling it a ruse.

“He already has lined up a potential purchaser for the refinery”, said union president general Ancel Roget.

On Monday, after rejecting the government offer, representatives of 12 unions in Trinidad and Tobago delivered a letter to the president, calling for an urgent meeting to discuss the closure of the refinery. The letter reminded the president that the retrenchments are a violation of a memorandum of agreement signed with the union, and calls for the restructuring to be debated in parliament.

The unions represent workers in both the public and private sector, including civil servants, nurses, farmers, truck drivers and bank workers. IndustriALL affiliate the Sea­men and Wa­ter­front Work­ers Trade Union was among the signatories.

Speaking in support of the OWTU, the president of the Public Services Association, Watson Duke, called on his members in customs and immigration, revenue collection and other areas of public service to stay at home and observe a day of “rest and reflection.” Instead of taking strike action, unions are calling on their members to call in sick that day.

After the minister of public administration threatened workers with jail if they failed to show up at work that day, union leaders responded angrily with cries of “Bring it on!” and “Build a bigger jail!”

IndustriALL energy director Diana Junquera Curiel said:

“The government of Trinidad and Tobago faces an industrial relations and political crisis entirely of its own making. With this underhanded attempt to privatize an important strategic asset, the government has succeeded in uniting the entire trade union movement against it.

“The time for posturing is over. The government needs to involve OWTU in negotiations for a credible restructuring plan.”