Petrotrin Cries Felt by Fired UTT Lecturers


Submitted by Dr Kumar Mahabir

The heartbreak felt by ex-Petrotrin workers was the same that was experienced by retrenched University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) lecturers who were sent home earlier this year.

On May 11, 2018, the only national university in Trinidad and Tobago (T&T) sacked 59 of its lecturers as part of a reported restructuring exercise. Six months later, on November 30, the national oil company was officially closed and all of its 8,000 workers were sent packing.

UTT lecturers were the first casualties of a State entity this year. Petrotrin workers were next, followed by Telecommunications Services of Trinidad and Tobago (TSTT) employees. In all three State entities, workers were sacrificed due to poor decisions made by Board members and managers.

Richardson Dhalai of Newsday (1/12/18) reported: “The day began on a sombre note as Petrotrin employees reported for duties for the last time, gloom etched on their faces as they drove hesitantly through the gates leading to the company’s administrative offices. The atmosphere could almost be likened to a wake [vigil] as there was no chatter with Petrotrin’s estate police officers who traditionally manned the gates.”

Dhalai added that “temporary worker Khalifa Phillip could hardly contain her grief and her voice cracked several times while her eyes welled with tears as she said temporary workers had been thrown on the pavement by the company.”

“‘There has been no communication to us on a personal level, not a phone call, not an email, not a letter saying that there will no longer be a company. No respect. We are not being treated with dignity, we have the same bills as everybody. We have rent, we have children to feed, this was our livelihood.

We were told nobody would be thrown in the bamboo, nobody would be on the pavement. That is exactly where I feel I am today. I am one of the 600 who they said would [not] have to suffer. I am one-month shy of 14 years in Petrotrin and I really feel neglected and ignored by the State.’”

Dhalai wrote: “Two other temporary workers who were sitting in the audience echoed Phillips’s words as tears rolled down their faces.”

Loss of a job and a way of life

Sascha Wilson of the Guardian (1/12/18) reported:As workers packed up their things and began leaving the workplace yesterday morning, they expressed sadness and uncertainty over their future.”

A similar article on the same page by Rishi Ragoonath stated, “Wiping his tears as he walked out the gates of Petrotrin after 30 years of service, worker David Jadoonanan lamented, ‘This is so hard. It hurtful. I don’t know what I will do.’ … Several workers, particularly temporary workers, were reduced to tears.”

Ragoonath added: “[Gabriel] O’souna said workers were also concerned about their medical plans and pension plans. Workers, he said, ‘have been sold to hell in a hand basket.’ They claimed that other companies don’t want to hire them because they have been demonised and portrayed as greedy, lazy and unqualified.”

Sandhya Santoo of the Express (1/12/18) reported: “For the workers, many wept openly as memories were shared with co-workers who had become friends and family. Men and women, many of them second and third generation Petrotrin employees, assembled at various locations with their bags of office belongings, ready to head home.”

The sacrifice of becoming a professional

Preparing to become a lecturer was no easy feat for those who were wrongfully retrenched by UTT without a fair, equitable, objective and transparent criteria. The Assistant Professors had studied for about 15 years, having been successful at GCE/CSEC, A’Levels/CAPE, BA/BSc, MA/MSc, and the Ph.D. These academics had spent an enormous amount of dedicated time and money to study, prepare for exams, conduct original research, write a thesis and dissertation, publish in academic journals, and present papers at international conferences.

To which place of employment can they now turn? And in May (when they were fired) when universities hire lecturers long before the academic year begins in September? Administrator Judy Rocke dismissed lecturers in the Bachelor of Education (BEd) Programme who were specialists in teacher training. They taught students to be the primary and secondary school teachers of tomorrow, guiding their minds for the challenges of the changing classroom.

Through experience and studies, they were specialists in teaching Theories in Education, Curriculum Studies, Pedagogy/Teaching Methods, Assessment and Evaluation, Psychology of Learning, Classroom Management, Instructional Design, Research Methods, Written Communication and Contemporary Issues in Education.

In our court case against Rocke and UTT President Sarim Al Zubaidy, our attorneys are contending that, in the circumstances, our dismissal was “unjustified, unlawful, harsh, punitive and oppressive.” In their considered view, our attorneys are also arguing that our arbitrary dismissal was an “abuse of power and/or misfeasance by public officers in a State institution. In Petrotrin and UTT, industrial relations procedures were neglected in the haste to retrench specialists and professionals.”

The National Budget Presentation on UTT


Submitted by Dr Kumar Mahabir

There are only three (3) sentences on the University of Trinidad and Tobago (UTT) in the T&T’s Government’s 2018/2019 national budget. These three sentences constitute one paragraph in a
a Budget Statement that is 48 pages long.

The brevity of the budget statement on UTT is suspect. It is a whisper from the standard roar that UTT is the first and only national university, although its President, Sarim N. Al-Zubaidy, is from Iraq. After his retrenchment of lecturers on May 11, 2018, he spent a tremendous amount of money doing damage control through promotional advertising with the pathetic tagline: “UTT IS HERE TO STAY”.

In his public oral statements on UTT, the Acting Chairman of the Board of Governors, Clement Imbert, is also short on details. Imbert and his nephew, Minister of Finance Colm Imbert, feel safe in being short (no pun intended) on UTT. To say more would reveal the devil in the details as is also the case in the current crisis in another State entity, Petrotrin.

Research and dissemination of knowledge

In one of his three sentences on UTT, the Minister of Finance gloated that the university “has been discharging its role as a catalyst for economic transformation through the advancement and application of research and dissemination of knowledge to produce work-ready graduates and critical thinkers for the country.”

This boast is a paradox and irony. I was one of 59 lecturers who were retrenched by UTT without due process on May 11 for being a “surplus” academic as part of the university’s “restructuring exercise.”

As an Assistant Professor, I was discharging my role as “a catalyst for economic transformation through the advancement and application of research and dissemination of knowledge …”. I have published scores of research-based articles in newspapers, magazines, journals and chapters in books. I also have eleven (11) books to my name. I have also presented research papers at local, regional and international seminars, conventions and conferences.

The person who replaced me at UTT has not published and, therefore, was not advancing and applying research, and disseminating knowledge for the country. A search in the databases ResearchGate, Google Scholar, ProQuest, EBSCO and revealed that she has not published a single research paper, even in a newsletter. I have post-graduate degrees in two disciplines; my M.Phil degree is in the Humanities (Literatures in English) and my Ph.D. is in the Social Sciences (Anthropology). Yet I was selected for retrenchment.

In his budget presentation, Colm Imbert also gloated that UTT “has been discharging its role as a catalyst … to produce work-ready graduates and critical thinkers for the country.” As an Assistant Professor, I taught several courses during my 10 continuous years of service to the university with an average of 30 students in each class. I taught courses in both the Primary and Secondary School specialisations.

Each semester (Terms 1 and 2), I taught an average of five (5) or more classes. I was selected for retrenchment by administrator Dr Judy Rocke while teaching the course CIED 4001: Contemporary Issues in Education. She dismissed me as a “surplus” lecturer when most of my colleagues were on vacation.

UTT short on transparency and credibility

On Monday, Minister Colm Imbert began his budget presentation by saying that when his party assumed power in September 2015, “we promised the citizens of T&T a transparent, honest and accountable Government. This was necessary for establishing credibility and trust in the new Government …”.

After the wrongful dismissal of 59 lecturers on May 11, 2018, UTT under Clement Imbert fell flat on the measure of transparency, honesty, accountability, credibility and trust. Some of us are seeking justice in the High Court and the Equal Opportunity Commission & Tribunal. We are asking UTT to reveal what criteria were used to dismiss us, if any at all, and whether these criteria were fair, objective, equitable and transparent?

Some of us have been working at the university on a 3-year contractual basis – some, like me, for ten (10) continuous years – when we were summarily dismissed by our supervisor, Dr Rocke, in the presence of an HR official. UTT lost all transparency, honesty, accountability, credibility and trust when due process was not followed in retrenching us.

UTT failed to consult with the affected lecturers, failed to give prior notice of dismissal, failed to provide the restructing plan of the university, failed to present evidence that each lecturer was “surplus” and/or “redundant”, failed to give an opportunity to the affected lecturer to respond, and failed to provide an opportunity for the lecturer to be represented by an attorney.

Minister Imbert should be ashamed to conclude his budget presentation by grinning and gloating, “We did it our way.”

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

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.