Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) president general Ancel Roget has claimed that Petrotrin’s management never took his organisation’s opinion seriously before they moved ahead with plans to shut down the company.
Roget repeatedly made the statement as he took the witness stand yesterday in the union’s industrial relations offence complaint against the company, over its alleged failure to properly consult with the union before making a final decision on the cash-strapped State enterprise.
Testifying before Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and four of her colleagues at the court’s Port-of-Spain headquarters yesterday afternoon, Roget claimed the company acted in bad faith, as its board had already made up its mind when it informed the union of the options it was considering in mid-August.
Questioned by Petrotrin attorney Reginald Armour, SC, over whether the management said it would still consider viable options presented by the union, Roget said the union felt the company would not take it seriously.
“They (Petrotrin) said that the trigger had already been pulled and you can’t go back. When they said something, something else was happening. To me that is bad faith,” Roget said.
Thomas-Felix appeared to question Roget’s evidence on the issue, as she asked: “You said there was no turning back and yet you were trying for an alternate plan?”
Roget replied: “We got the impression that it was just a delay to get to the deadline date of November 30.”
Asked by Armour if the company sent its director Nigel Edwards to assist the union with its proposal, Roget said yes. However, he noted that it was Edwards who told the union that closure of the company was inevitable.
Armour spent the majority of yesterday’s hearing cross-examining Roget over meetings between the union and the company, which took place between January and September.
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During yesterday’s hearing, the Office of Attorney General also applied to intervene in the case as an interested party. The AG’s office had intervened after the union sought an injunction against the company last month, but had claimed the Government would not be involved in the industrial relations offence.
In making the application, Seenath Jairam, SC, claimed the Government was still concerned, as the union was seeking an order stopping the scheduled closure and compelling the parties to return to the negotiation table. He said such an order would have a detrimental effect on the country’s economy, as the Government guarantees the company’s billion dollar debt.
OWTU lawyer Douglas Mendes, SC, objected as he claimed the AG’s Office had applied too late and it was biased towards the company’s position.
“You cannot rely on him (AG) to be fair and even-minded,” Mendes said.
Thomas-Felix overruled Mendes’ objection and agreed to allow the State to present submissions. However, she ruled that it could only enter the case in the event the union wins its claim and she and her colleagues have to decide on possible reliefs.
Roget is expected to return to the witness stand when the case resumes this morning. He is expected to be followed by OWTU education and research officer Ozzi Warwick. Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet is expected to testify and be cross-examined after the union completes its case.
The Industrial Court reserved yesterday, today and tomorrow for hearing of the complaint and is expected to give its final decision next week.