The Plight of Petrotrin and UTT Retrenched Workers


Submitted by Dr Kumar Mahabir

As the spokesperson for the retrenched lecturers of UTT, I stand in solidarity with the displaced workers of Petrotrin.

On May 11, 2018, about 60 lecturers were wrongfully dismissed by the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT). On October 1, about 2,600 permanent workers would be innocently sent home by the oil company.

Both the UTT and Petrotrin are national entities. The UTT is a Government-funded, non-profit educational institution and Petrotrin is a commercial State oil company.

The workers in both enterprises are casualties of a “restructuring exercise” designed to cut financial losses by retrenching workers. Our UTT dismissal letters stated that we were “surplus” lecturers who became “redundant” in the university’s “restructuring exercise.”

Victims of mismanagement and malfeasance

The workers in the UTT and Petrotrin are victims of mismanagement by successive PNM and PP-appointed Boards of Governors. The Petrotrin worker’s union, OWTU, had always expressed its concern about mismanagement, malfeasance and graft. The trade union had also warned about cost overruns on megaprojects like the now infamous WGTL, USLD and GOP. No Petrotrin worker can be blamed for misappropriating TT$3 billion on the failed GTL plant.

Is the UTT managing taxpayers’ money wisely? Why does it continue to pay its Iraq-born president, Sarim Al-Zubaidy, a reported $240,000 a month? And now Al-Zubaidy’s long-time research partner, Wasi Z. Khan, another foreigner, is reportedly also being paid in foreign currency.

Speaking at a press conference on May 18, 2018 at NAPA, Vice Chairman of the Board Clement Imbert said, “UTT’s new structure will see a reduction in top management from seven Vice Presidents to three, 56 managers to about 33-36.” To date, there has been no announcement that this reduction has been done.

Does the UTT have money to continue to pay the 287 non-teaching workers who have to be retrenched, as Imbert and Education Minister, Anthony Garcia, told the media eight months ago?

Or is Imbert really afraid to fire these workers because of the inevitable backlash of protests from the militant OWTU which also represents the 287 workers?

Why does the UTT continue to pay for expensive full-page, full-colour advertisements in the print media with the pathetic tagline: “UTT IS HERE TO STAY”? Why did the UTT transfer approximately $323 million from its operating funds to continue the construction of its signature campus complex in the jungle in Tamana?

No consultation with UTT lecturers before dismissal

Unlike Petrotrin workers, we were never shown (the need for) a restructuring plan for the university or a statement of accounts indicating a financial loss. What was worse, the Board of the UTT never held any meeting or discussion with us. Had consultations been offered to us, we would have suggested ways in which jobs could have been saved without the university collapsing.

One of the due process steps followed in industrial relations – before formal notice of dismissal is given to affected employees – is consultation. The UTT failed to consult with us before the premature termination of our 3-year contracts.

The Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act No. 32 of 1985 of T&T stipulates that “prior to the giving of formal notice in writing of retrenchment,” [the employer] is expected “to enter into consultation” with the affected employees or their representative union “with a view to exploring the possibility of averting, reducing or mitigating the effects of the proposed retrenchment.”

Lies told to UTT and Petrotrin employees

On January 15, 2018, Energy Minister Franklin Khan categorically dismissed a social media report which alleged that 2,000 workers would be retrenched from Petrotrin. He said, “It is mischief to say the least.” As the line Minister, either Khan did not know at the time or was telling a lie.

Speaking on Radio I95.5 on August 27, OWTU’s education and research officer, Ozzi Warwick, accused the government of perpetrating lies and withholding certain facts about Petrotrin. He said: “The country deserves to hear the whole Petrotrin story …. The lies must stop.” Warwick reiterated calls for a public inquiry.

On May 28, Minister Garcia told the media that UTT lecturers had to be “trimmed so that an equal distribution of the cumulative workload could be attained and maintained.” That is a lie propagated by Garcia. No such audit was done, at least in the Education Programme where I taught. To prove that he is not lying, I hereby publicly challenge Garcia to make public his lecturer-student ratio audit for the dismissed lecturers.

At our dismissal meeting, the Head of the Education Programme at UTT, Dr Judy Rocke, gave the reason for her termination of our contracts. She told the assembled lecturers that all Secondary School Specialisation courses were being phased out, resulting in us being “redundant” in the university’s “restructuring exercise.”

Now we know that she was lying. These courses are timetabled and are still being taught to new students during the new semester which began on September 3, 2018.

Dr. Mahabir taught several courses at UTT including Research Methods.

18 thoughts on “The Plight of Petrotrin and UTT Retrenched Workers

  1. Sometimes we ask our leaders to make tough decision. It appears that some tough and maybe necessary decisions were made for PetroTrin and UTT. In a democracy like there is in Tdad, decisions will be questioned, especially if you have skin n the game or you are far-sighted enuff to see things coming down the track.

    Economics is a fudge-able thing we always seems to have two handed economists. But ethically accountants are usually historians; they tell you what you have been doing right or wrong. The govt thinks that the better solution is to Re-trench the PetroTrin work force and Re-purpose the PetroTrin entity into a different entity. The Re-sizing of the UTT appears to have to do with the cost of running the educational institution.

    Decisions made decision questioned, but forward Tdad must go with or without the dissenters. “Together we aspire together we achieve”

    • Tough decisions are made, people will never be happy when it occurs especially if it could have be avoided? In the of petrotrin there e more irons th answer. For example what that decommissioning compared to incurring marginal losses.

      On Friday, 14 September 2018, Barbados Underground wrote:


  2. Yes. Tough decisions always have to be made by the Government. That is the main reasons they need two handed economists .
    They need to do the cost/ benefit analyses. We have to put them in the balance /scales and balance efficiency with effectiveness. Yeah, balance the economy and the society. Unlike the accountants ,we do not obsess over what has happened. We work to correct the ills.

  3. The Public Sector and what its social objectives are will change from time to time and from political party to political party. Petrotrin and UTT appeared to the parties in power to be good ideas,serving the public purpose. Money ,most likely was abundant at the time.

    If there follows a down turn in the economy their economic and social benefits are reviewed. That is reality. Boom and Bust. Rationalisation will cause social disruption. We have to learn to live in this Roller Coaster world. Life is what it is.

  4. i will bet my last dollar that the comments would have been more pungent had these retrenchment exercises been done by a Panday or Kamila led Government and those now referred to as dissenters would have been accorded hero status for standing up to corruption.

  5. Yes . Like all other bodies of knowledge economists attempt to quantify social well-being. Classical economists talked about utilities/utils and gave them a number. But if asked to describe one. He never could. Is it not the same with an atom ? Can you describe one?

    In the case under discussion ,you may notice that, like our community college, UTT had a sixth form program . Was it not cheaper, dollar wise, to send these students to secondary schools.
    Short answer. Yes we need to rank some things,even intangible things, numerically. That is why we teach our children maths.

  6. @ David at 11 :10 AM

    I think we had this debate before. Which came first. ? The society or the economy?

    It is an iterative process. They impact each other.

    But is that really the question you meant to ask?

    Is there any good reason why society should not shape the economic system which delivers the social goods it wants?

    Economics is centred on the basic physical needs/ wants of man at a certain level of development……food, clothing ,shelter, health care, education etc.

    At the level above the basic ,conspicuous consumption takes over. We move into the peacock level with swimming pools,SUVs, trips to the Barcelona ,Polo games , private yachts etc. That is mostly for those who are attempting to satisfy an insatiable hunger for acceptance.

    • @Vincent

      You anticipated the next question. The answer like you stated is that it is a hand and glove approach i.e. social policy can help to shape economic policy with financial constraints. For example, we are currently having to exist in austere times with social programs of necessity being slashed no doubt with consequences. Coincidentally this is the state of play in both Barbados and Trinidad.

  7. I beg the forgiveness of the august company here assembled.

    I, like Kahlil Gibran am incapable of seeing these other lofty things you gents have seen so i will dwell in the solitiude of my ignorance and comment on that which i saw

    The now jobless? Dr Mahabir said and I quote “…At our dismissal meeting, the Head of the Education Programme at UTT, Dr Judy Rocke, gave the reason for her termination of our contracts. She told the assembled lecturers that all Secondary School Specialisation courses were being phased out, resulting in us being “redundant” in the university’s “restructuring exercise.”

    Now we know that she was lying. These courses are timetabled and are still being taught to new students during the new semester which began on September 3, 2018…”

    I must be missing something!

    Is it not the main thrust of this blog to say “we were fired in this retrenching exercise because of downsizing YET here is the same UTT hiring teachers and giving the same classes?”

    I sorry.

    “Cockroach has no right at Fowlcock parties”

  8. @ PUDRYR at 12 :08 PM

    I know you better than that. So no self effacing prologue can mislead me. You are well aware of the dynamics that are being played out in this T&T scenario.

    @ David at 12 :03 PM

    We can insist that we play the game according to the rule of law and in the spirit of equity. The Electorate was promised a change in the mode of operations.

    • @Vincent

      Let us repeat together, what political actors bray on the political platform will change when they take up the office of government. They will promise to sell their souls to be elected then the cold reality of governing kicks in. The two are always at variance.

  9. @ David BU at 3 : !0 PM

    I did warn that the true position may not have been published; so the promises could be extravagant. Even now I have a feeling that some positions are overstated. Somethings do not cross reference. But all will become clear as we progress.

    “Selling souls to be elected”?

    I think you may be a bit too strong in the language. Over exuberance maybe.
    But relax. You have traveled this road before.

  10. Two months after declaring a profit…. secret reports convince them to shut down?

    STATE oil company Petrotrin has recorded an after tax profit of $85.6 million for the quarter ended June 30, 2018.

    This compared to a loss of $517.5 million in the previous quarter. Petrotrin chairman Wilfred Espinet in published financial statements attributed the improved results to cost reduction initiatives undertaken by the interim executive team installed in March this year.

    Petrotrin recorded revenue of $11.3 billion for the six month period ending March 31 —a 9.6 per cent increase compared with the corresponding period in 2017.

    The company’s audited financial statements show earnings before Interest, Taxes, Depreciation and Amortisation (EBITDA) increased to $984.6 million, or 4.4 per cent more than the 2017 result for the comparable period.

    However, the state-owned energy company incurred a loss before tax of $513.8 million which translated to a loss after tax of $571.3 million.

    Chairman Wilfred Espinet said the loss was largely due to a change in the accounting treatment of taxes related to losses in the Refining and Marketing division that resulted in a $218 million increase in losses, as well as a change in the accounting treatment of Interests cost on bank borrowing for the Ultra Low Sulphur Diesel (ULSD) project which increased losses by $94.3 million

    He added: “For the period ending March 31, 2018, Crude Purchases—Cost of Sales—increased by $1,059 million over the corresponding period because of higher prices. This was partially offset by a $990 million increase in revenue from Refined Product sales, but the net effect was a $69 million loss.”

    Petrotrin’s asset base decreased to $39.7 billion compared with $49.2 billion for the corresponding period in 2017, primarily because of the write down of its fixed asset balance for an impaired asset and the reclassification of previously capitalised borrowing cost on the ULSD project to expense.

    Total debt to equity and current ratios as at March 31 2018 were 3.63 and 0.48 respectively, compared to ratios of 1.10 and 0.48 as at March 31, 2017.

    “The Board remains committed to addressing all the issues confronting Petrotrin in the midst of challenging external circumstances. We continue with an aggressive programme to reduce costs and improve productivity and asset integrity in our drive for sustainability,” Espinet said

  11. It has been abroad from as long as the 80’s that Eric Williams died a broken man brought about by the ungrateful Teachers Union of TnT.
    For as long as we can remember the names George Weekes,President General of the very powerful in numbers and in outrageous demand, Oilfield General Workers Trade Union and of late the garrulous and demanding bullying tactics of Ancel Roget has brought the Union’s pigs to a fine market.The loss making Petrotrin is on the block but no buyers. Rowley has called Roget’s bluff and the 2500 workers have finally awakened to the trini principle….make grand charge and hope your bluff not on the cards a la CARONI,TTEC,ARAWAK,TTAS,BWEE.Maybe they will never learn.Trinidad,the placard bearing folk who think Government owes them big time. UP with this and DOWN with that is the way to increase productivity and improve the twin island state.TnT known for its colorful pageantry and people but listed as one on the more hostile in customer service to visitors according to a BBC report.Brasstacks is similarly replete with folk who know better than Mia and her economic advisers the appropriate measures to take to end the 10 years of apathy and misery of the last DLP cabinet that brought Barbados to a near state of collapse….

  12. @ David BU at 10 :39 AM

    Be careful how you read accounting information. The same caveat that is applied to statistics should be applied to accounting statements. Very often one can apply any interpretation to them that puts the company in a bad or good light. That is why external auditors express an opinion rather than say they are correct.

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