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Collective respect key going ahead

Monday, August 27, 2018
Economist: Petrotrin may need creative destruction
Petrotrin’s refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre.

When officials of state-owned Petrotrin and the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union sit down for talks tomorrow, economist Dr Roger Hosein says a “collective respect” is required by all the players around the table “recognising that it is not business as usual in Trinidad and Tobago, but rather business unusual has to be the operating principle moving forward and therefore a different and unusual level of cooperation and pulling in the same direction is required.”

Speaking to the T&T Guardian yesterday, even as the OWTU led its membership in a protest at the residence of the Prime Minister, Hosein said the current situation requires “careful judgement by all the players involved.”

The reality of Petrotrin today, he said, is one where, he said, “I am not of the view that change could be obtained without some form of creative destruction.”

While the union has a mandate to represent and ensure that workers’ jobs are protected, the company has a mandate to operate profitably and the state would want to see an efficiently operating state-owned enterprise, Hosein said.

“Some of these interests are conflicting and therefore the solution would have to be somewhere in the middle,” Hosein said.

But he cautioned that “no entity should rush and lay off 10,15, 20 per cent of the labour force, because the hardship experienced by these individuals will be real.”

He said he would support a “public-private arrangement in moving forward that preserves as much employment as possible, but that allows the company wiggling room for profitability.”

While he concedes that Petrotrin has been “badly run,” Hosein said the union must also take its head out of the 1930s, 40s and 50s and “change its behavioural pattern and some of its perceptions of the role it has to play in moving the company forward.”

He deemed it “absurd” that although production levels at the state oil company had fallen by as much as 50 per cent in the last ten years, salary levels have not fallen in some way related to the fall in production.

“It simply cannot be business as usual in Petrotrin,” he said.

Hosein said 2018 salary levels at Petrotrin “reflect production levels of 2000 and 2005 and therefore there is negotiating room for all to come out with some measure of success as it stands.”

“If I were leader of the OWTU,” he said, “I would have negotiated for a ten per cent cut in salary and kept all my workers. I would have tried to go for a strategy to keep my staff on the assumption that if I have eighty or ninety per cent of a loaf of bread I would still be able to feed my family, rather than try to get one and a half loaves of bread but some of the people in my family would probably remain hungry because they became unemployed.”

Petrotrin officials declined comment ahead of tomorrow’s talks yesterday, saying things are at a “sensitive stage.”

The T&T Guardian was told that the company remains optimistic that the union will understand the dire situation which the company has found itself in, where it needs to find the money to repay millions of dollars in loans which become due next year.

One official said, “The rating agencies are waiting to find out how the loans are going to be refinanced or else they are going to downgrade Trinidad and Tobago.”
In a January 2017 address to the nation, Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley described Petrotrin as “a ward of the Treasury” as he told the country the state oil company has a $13.2 billion debt, including $1.2 billion owed to the Government.


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