What we know…
It’s 2017, and we’ve started the new year with a bang; a rough start by all accounts. Now trending in matters that concern our citizens is the outstanding wage negotiations between the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) on behalf of Petrotrin employees and the State. OWTU boss Ancil Roget threatens strike action if their demands are not met. They are asking for a 10% wage increase for the period 2011-2014. For all 4000 workers, this signifies an increase in the company’s wage bill by $165 million TT. Petrotrin President Fitzroy Harewood says, “Such action…would add to the burden of the national economy and exacerbate economic conditions in our company.” He added that “Petrotrin’s business has already been severely affected by the approximate 50% drop in world oil prices.”
Trinidad and Tobago’s economy is heavily dependent on revenues from oil and gas for survival. In a country that has done very little to diversify and create alternative streams of income, the current price of oil signals harder economic times in the days ahead. Unfortunately for us, the oil price may never return to what it was for 2 reasons:
- The United States, formally one of our major importers of oil, is now self-sufficient in this commodity. According to EIA (US Energy Information Administration), “In 2015, the United States produced an average of about 9.4 million barrels of crude oil per day, about 3.3 million barrels per day of other noncrude petroleum liquids, and about 1.1 million barrels per day of biofuels.” This has negatively impacted the price of oil and oil-dependent economies across the globe and many countries are reeling from the effects. Our beautiful Trinidad and Tobago is no exception.
- The demand for oil has shifted. Industries that have been heavily dependent on oil and gas are now switching to fuel-efficient operating systems or eliminating the need for it all together by using renewable resources like solar power. Other organisations concerned about their corporate image are also opting to go ‘green’ in a bid to be more environment-friendly.
While the timing of a proposed strike could not be any more inconvenient, perhaps we need to look at all the angles. There is never a ‘perfect’ time for industrial action. Deferring to this course of action is always uncomfortable, mostly for those being forced to pay. Employees of any organisation protected by a union are within their rights to demand better wages and working conditions.
Most people believe an employee taking home more than $10,000.00 a month is sitting pretty. This may not always be the case. Your lifestyle changes to fit your income; you have more bills, opt for a fancier car, and buy a more expensive house. To an employee of another company, this might seem like a lot of money but ‘plenty’ is relative. The truth is, it is quite possible to earn that amount of money and still live paycheck to paycheck. Eventually, your budget can no longer facilitate unexpected expenses and like everybody else, you too feel the effects of the escalating costs of living. You welcome the idea of a promised wage increase and look forward to the days when you can once again live comfortably.
One does wonder why the OWTU, in the face our present economic climate, chooses to incite workers at Petrotrin to strike. And what of the executives at Petrotrin? While other companies in the industry across the globe have been forced to terminate workers and or accept drastic pay cuts, this has not happened at Petrotrin. Their employees are still ranked among the highest paid in the country and many feel a demand for more money shows a level of ingratitude. To others, it feels very much like the country is being held to ransom as the effects of a strike on an already fragile economy could be devastating. Those of us already feeling the pinch of the devaluating TT dollar can only conclude that the OWTU is being inconsiderate and unreasonable.
How this matter would be resolved is still unknown. In the end, one party is not going to be happy. We hold our breaths till then.