The Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU) Monday described as a “ruse” the announcement by Prime Minister Dr. Keith Rowley that it was prepared to give the union first option in acquiring the refining assets of the state-owned oil company, PETROTRIN.
OWTU President Ancel Roget, speaking at a news conference, said the announcement only confirms the union’s earlier position that the government was intent on selling the century old refinery to its friends.
“The country was faced last night with a lot of deceit,” said Roget, flanked by several other trade union leaders.
“We have always said that the plan is to sell the people’s asset, the refinery, and it came out quite clearly last night in this sort of a ruse telling the union that we are the first option to buy the refinery,” Roget said.
Rowley in a radio and television broadcast on Sunday night said that his administration had decided to accept the recommendations of the board of directors of the company to shut down the oil refinery operations resulting in the loss of hundreds of jobs.
“The decision to close the refinery was taken after detailed analysis and deep introspection. This is not a decision that was made lightly or easily. Options were explored and reviewed. We sent the board back on a number of occasions to consider different scenarios and possibilities. At every step the effect on workers and their families and the communities that rely on refinery operations was considered,” Rowley said.
But he told the nation that his government was prepared to give the OWTU, the representing workers’ union “the first option to own and operate” the refining assets of the company, “on the most favourable terms”.
Rowley said it is the intention of the government to put the assets “in a separate company for opportunity attention”.
Roget said the union felt vindicated by Prime Minister Rowley’s statement, adding “we are vindicated because we knew that the plan was to sell the refinery”.
He said the union never wanted to own the refinery, 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”.
OWTU and other trade unions have been gearing for a shutdown of the country on Friday following the announcement by PETROTRIN last week that it was shutting down the refinery. OWTU said it had in the past presented alternative proposals to the company in a bid to make it viable.
Roget and the unions said that the plan would go ahead and warned that government of any attempt to single out any trade union, particularly the teachers union, for victimisation as a result of the planned industrial action.
“They are frightening the teachers. We stand firmly in solidarity with the teachers and if you want to exuberate the problems that you have already painted just touch one of these trade unions,” said Roget, who later flanked by several trade union leaders and supporters delivered a letter to the Office of the Prime Minister.