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90-Day strike looms in Trinidad

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(Caribean 360)

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad and Tobago, Thursday, January 5 – All eyes are fixed on Labour Minister Jennifer Baptiste-Primus today as she heads to the bargaining table with the militant Oil Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) and Petrotrin, to avert a crippling shut down of the state-owned energy company.

The union yesterday defied loud calls for reason from several stakeholders and handed Petrotrin president Fitzroy Harewood a strike notice outlining plans for disgruntled workers to stay off the job for 90 days.

“If between the time of serving that strike notice this morning to Monday morning we get a call from the Government, we are open to discussions, so don’t blame us if the Government does not call, don’t blame us if there is no change in position, because all we want is something reasonable,” a defiant OWTU President Ancel Roget told journalists.

The union and Petrotrin are deadlocked on the OWTU’s demands for a 10 percent wage increase for the 2014-2017 collective bargaining period. The company says its worsening debt position has handicapped its ability to increase wages and salary at this time.

The union has, however, been insisting that management was responsible for the company’s poor finances and it was now up to the Government which handed public servants a 14 percent wage increase to find money for Petrotrin workers.

The OWTU boss also blasted mounting opposition to the pending action, urging workers to disregard the criticism.

“None of them run the refinery, none of them work in the producing fields, none of them put their lives and limbs at risk, but all of them benefit when we work and the ones that don’t benefit are the ones we are talking about here this morning,” Roget said.

Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley yesterday added his voice to calls for common sense to prevail.

Assuring that the Government was not being “hostile to the union,” he told a news conference that Petrotrin could not even afford a one-dollar pay hike without dire consequences.

He also made it clear that the Government could not negotiate on the current terms.

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