Petrotrin cries felt by fired UTT lecturers

Dr. Kumar Mahabir.

The heartbreak felt by ex-Petrotrin workers was the same that was experienced by retrenched University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) lecturers who were sent home earlier this year.

On May 11, 2018, the only national university in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) sacked 59 of its lecturers as part of a reported restructuring exercise. Six months later, on November 30, the national oil company was officially closed and all of its 8,000 workers were sent packing.

UTT lecturers were the first casualties of a state entity this year. Petrotrin workers were next, followed by Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) employees. In all three state entities, workers were sacrificed due to poor decisions made by Board members and managers.

Richardson Dhalai of Newsday (1/12/18) reported: “The day began on a sombre note as Petrotrin employees reported for duties for the last time, gloom etched on their faces as they drove hesitantly through the gates leading to the company’s administrative offices. The atmosphere could almost be likened to a wake [vigil] as there was no chatter with Petrotrin’s estate police officers who traditionally manned the gates.”

Dhalai added that “temporary worker Khalifa Phillip could hardly contain her grief and her voice cracked several times while her eyes welled with tears as she said temporary workers had been thrown on the pavement by the company.”

“‘There has been no communication to us on a personal level, not a phone call, not an email, not a letter saying that there will no longer be a company. No respect. We are not being treated with dignity, we have the same bills as everybody. We have rent, we have children to feed, this was our livelihood.

‘We were told nobody would be thrown in the bamboo, nobody would be on the pavement. That is exactly where I feel I am today. I am one of the 600 who they said would [not] have to suffer. I am one-month shy of 14 years in Petrotrin and I really feel neglected and ignored by the state.’”

Dhalai wrote: “Two other temporary workers who were sitting in the audience echoed Phillips’s words as tears rolled down their faces.”

Loss of a job and a way of life

Sascha Wilson of the Guardian (1/12/18) reported: “As workers packed up their things and began leaving the workplace yesterday morning, they expressed sadness and uncertainty over their future.”

A similar article on the same page by Rishi Ragoonath stated, “Wiping his tears as he walked out the gates of Petrotrin after 30 years of service, worker David Jadoonanan lamented, ‘This is so hard. It hurtful. I don’t know what I will do.’ … Several workers, particularly temporary workers, were reduced to tears.”

Ragoonath added: “[Gabriel] O’souna said workers were also concerned about their medical plans and pension plans. Workers, he said, ‘have been sold to hell in a hand basket.’ They claimed that other companies don’t want to hire them because they have been demonised and portrayed as greedy, lazy and unqualified.”

Sandhya Santoo of the Express (1/12/18) reported: “For the workers, many wept openly as memories were shared with co-workers who had become friends and family. Men and women, many of them second and third generation Petrotrin employees, assembled at various locations with their bags of office belongings, ready to head home.”

The sacrifice of becoming a professional

Preparing to become a lecturer was no easy feat for those who were wrongfully retrenched by UTT without a fair, equitable, objective and transparent criteria. The assistant professors had studied for about 15 years, having been successful at GCE / CSEC, A’Levels / CAPE, BA/BSc, MA / MSc, and the Ph.D. These academics had spent an enormous amount of dedicated time and money to study, prepare for exams, conduct original research, write a thesis and dissertation, publish in academic journals, and present papers at international conferences.

To which place of employment can they now turn? And in May (when they were fired) when universities hire lecturers long before the academic year begins in September? Administrator Judy Rocke dismissed lecturers in the Bachelor of Education (BEd) Programme who were specialists in teacher training. They taught students to be the primary and secondary school teachers of tomorrow, guiding their minds for the challenges of the changing classroom.

Through experience and studies, they were specialists in teaching Theories in Education, Curriculum Studies, Pedagogy / Teaching Methods, Assessment and Evaluation, Psychology of Learning, Classroom Management, Instructional Design, Research Methods, Written Communication and Contemporary Issues in Education.

In our court case against Rocke and UTT President Sarim Al Zubaidy, our attorneys are contending that, in the circumstances, our dismissal was “unjustified, unlawful, harsh, punitive and oppressive.” In their considered view, our attorneys are also arguing that our arbitrary dismissal was an “abuse of power and/or misfeasance by public officers in a State institution. In Petrotrin and UTT, industrial relations procedures were neglected in the haste to retrench specialists and professionals.”

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