Trinidad – Union threatens action after workers fired
PORT OF SPAIN – The Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) has warned it will take action in protest of the firing of three employees of the state-owned oil company who refused to berth crude oil tankers because they came from the West African country of Gabon during the Ebola crisis last year.
In fact, president general Ancel Roget was quoted in the Trinidad Express as saying that if the Petrotrin workers were not reinstated, “all hell will break loose”.
In addition to the trio sent packing, several other workers have either been suspended or issued warning letters.
It was in October and November 2014 that employees refused to berth the tankers at the Pointe-a-Pierre port because they were afraid they might be infected by the Ebola virus which had claimed the lives of thousands of people in West African nations neighbouring Gabon. This was despite receiving a health clearance certificate from the Ministry of Health which deemed the vessels free from infection or contamination.
In a statement issued on Tuesday, Petrotrin said that at the time of the incident, its senior personnel engaged in dialogue with employees and the OWTU Pointe-a-Pierre branch to share information and to address concerns and additional protective equipment was also offered to the employees to allay any concerns, although that was not required.
“Despite these efforts, employees persisted in their refusal to berth the vessels which forced the company to take alternative measures to berth these vessels and ensure the continuity of operations,” it said, adding that the situation had cost the company significantly.
“An investigation was later conducted to determine whether 66 employees had breached their duties. After the preliminary investigations, 26 employees were exonerated and there was culpability found on the part of the remaining 40 employees. The 40 employees were given an opportunity to respond on more than two occasions.”
Petrotrin said that after carefully reviewing the facts, it decided to terminate three employees and issue suspensions and warning letters to the other 37.
But Roget has charged that the workers were really fired because they opposed Petrotrin’s decision to privatize its bunkering operations.
“We are not foolish to not make the link. It is a diversionary tactic to go through with this major bunkering deal,” he charged.