The Court of Appeal has dismissed an injunction which temporarily barred Petrotrin from sending home its workers as part of its ongoing restructuring exercise.
Delivering an oral judgement after a marathon hearing at the Hall of Justice in Port-of-Spain on Thursday, Chief Justice Ivor Archie and Appellate Judges Allan Mendonca and Andre Des Vignes ruled that the Industrial Court did not properly consider the national economic impact of the injunction when it granted it, almost two weeks ago.
They stated that the Industrial Court failed to consider evidence from the company and the Office of the Attorney General, which both claimed that the injunction had a potential impact on the country’s credit rating, sovereign debt and social services as the company’s billion-dollar debt is guaranteed by the State. They also said that it failed to consider the company’s claim that the injunction may lead some of its creditors demanding immediate repayment, leading the company to insolvency.
Archie said: "The Industrial Court failed to demonstrate that it gave sufficient consideration to the wider public interest."
The decision means that Petrotrin can continue the process while the Industrial Court hearing an industrial relations offence against the company filed by the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU). The process is already at an advanced stage as, last week, Appellate Judge Charmaine Pemberton granted the company a stay of the injunction pending Thursday’s determination of the appeal.
The decision was not a total defeat for the OWTU as Archie and his colleagues ruled that the Industrial Court does have the power to grant injunctions in cases where industrial relations offences are filed against companies.
Cezar Juan Trevino
That aspect of the Appeal Court‘s judgement set an important legal precedent for local industrial relations as last week the Telecommunications Services of T&T (TSTT) used the jurisdiction issue, raised by Petrotrin in the appeal, in its failed bid to block an injunction stopping it from shifting its residential fibre optic communication service to its recently acquired subsidiary Amplia.
As part of the ruling, Archie stated that if the Industrial Court eventually finds the company guilty of the offence, it is free to issue a $4,000 fine, temporarily rescind the termination letters already issued to workers and order the parties to restart negotiations on the closure of the State company.
However, Archie was careful to note that neither the Court of Appeal nor the Industrial Court is allowed to prevent the company from eventually closing its operations.
In his submissions in the appeal, Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who is leading OWTU’s legal team, stated that the injunction would weaken the union’s ability to effectively negotiate with the company in the event it proves its industrial relations offence and gets the renegotiation relief. He suggested that the union would have fewer members to negotiate on behalf of a larger number who decide to accept the company’s offers of voluntary separation.
The submission was rejected by Archie during the hearing and in the court’s ruling.
"Are they (the workers) not entitled to decide what is in their best interest?" Archie responded.