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Petrotrin at the crossroads

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Today, some three days before Trinidad and Tobago marks its 56th year of independence, the country has arrived at the crossroads for yet another one of its major institutions in state-owned oil company Petrotrin.

Indeed, Petrotrin and Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union representatives will sit down today if, of course, the union accepts the invitation to the forum, to discuss the definitive way ahead for the company.

Admittedly, however, John Public is none the wiser on the significance of today’s event, of the key issues that led to this point and of what the final decision will really mean for the company—quite unfortunate given the circumstances that led to this scenario.

There are overarching issues ahead of today’s session. What is the purpose of the meeting? Will Petrotrin, acting on Government’s behalf, finally give the union the real details of the company’s state and allow the union to analyse and return to the table for further talks?

Or is the meeting a fait accompli, the board having already been given a plan sanctioned by the Cabinet since last week?

But the situation has come to this because all three major parties—Government, Petrotrin and the OWTU—have offered differing statistics and arguments to support their stances on the issues important to them.

In fact, the only thing they all stand in agreement on is that mismanagement over decades has caused Petrotrin’s slide and restructuring is necessary to stop this spiral.

The means of getting there is their sticking point. In the middle of all this is John Public, who is confused over who to believe and who to trust in the matter.

In any normal situation, a Government standing on the cusp of such a critical action would have already made its case to the public.

This is because retrenchment seems one of the major fallouts and as we have seen fairly recently with the closure of companies like ArcelorMittal, there will be a huge negative trickle-down effect given the size of Petrotrin’s labour force, one that is likely to be felt outside the energy sector as well.

We have been here before but have not apparently learned from that scenario. Today’s decision stands in line with the then government’s 2009 CL Financial/Hindu Credit Union bailout. That too had the propensity to negatively impact T&T’s economy, with the only major difference being that those entities were privately owned.

That the current Government is still yet to fully recover billions from this activity, to the continuing detriment of taxpayers, should have been a good enough signal to Government that the approach to today’s Petrotrin plan should have been handled differently.

At this stage, however, we can only hope that as the parties sit down in today’s meeting and as we look forward to celebrating Independence Day on Friday, the final decision is indeed in the best interest of T&T.


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