Like almost everybody else, I was floored by the news that Trinidad and Tobago government has sold its oil refinery (formerly Petrotrin) to the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU).
While I am pleased that the refinery will remain in the hands of nationals, as a Trinbagonian, I have some questions because I believe this transaction is a smokescreen. The deal (pun intended) is all the more suspect with the 3-year moratorium on all payments of principal and interest towards the purchase of the refinery and an additional 10-year grace to complete the pay-off.
I was shocked because in October last year, OWTU refused government’s offer to purchase that Pointe-a-Pierre refinery. OWTU’s leader Ancel Roget said his union never wanted to own the refinery.
He has been quoted in the media on Sept. 3, 2018 as saying: “We are patriots and we know that the refinery belongs to the people. It does not belong in the hands of a private owner, even if that owner is the union.”
Then OWTU changed its mind and submitted a proposal with partners from Suriname and another with operations in the US, UK and UAE.
The questions are: Does OWTU have the capacity to pay US$700 million for the refinery’s assets? And another US1.4 billion to get it up and running? If not, who are its local and foreign financiers? Is Mak England one of them?
Is there something to hide in having a Non-Disclosure Agreement (NDA) with the government? As tax-payers, we have a right to know about the sale of this national asset.
Does OWTU have the managerial expertise to operate the refinery successfully?
Is there a model to follow? Where in the world has a trade union owned an oil refinery?
Not even the Oil, Chemical and Atomic Workers Union (OCAW) in the USA. Not even the FUTPV trade union in Venezuela. Would OWTU set a world precedent?
Would OWTU give preferential treatment to its former members for employment?
Who would be the recognised trade union in this new dispensation? Would an aggrieved OWTU employee take his or her complaint to the OWTU-controlled management?
Would OWTU rehire all of the 1700 workers who were retrenched in the wake of the gross overstaffing in Petrotrin?
Is OWTU prepared to continue to spend about 47 percent of Petrotin’s recurrent expenditure in labour?
Finally, would OWTU continue chanting its coded mantra of more pay, less work?
Dr. Kumar Mahabir
San Juan, Trinidad and Tobago