Lawyers muzzle Petrotrin chairman

Lawyers for Petrotrin im­me­di­ate­ly muz­zled its chair­man Wil­fred Es­pinet af­ter he crit­i­cised the In­dus­tri­al Court dur­ing a ra­dio pro­gramme on Tues­day.

Es­pinet was a call-in guest on i95. 5 FM and was ques­tioned on the rel­e­vance of both an in­dus­tri­al court and a union.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view with Guardian Me­dia af­ter that ra­dio in­ter­view, Es­pinet said that he can no longer speak on the is­sue of the In­dus­tri­al Court or its de­ci­sion as it could be seen as con­tempt of the court.

On the pro­gramme, Es­pinet said that both the In­dus­tri­al Court and the idea of trade unions are out­dat­ed and "out of touch" with the re­al­i­ties on the ground.

The board was ex­pect­ed to hold a meet­ing at 10 am to­day to de­tail its three-month tran­si­tion plan but that was post­poned be­cause of the In­dus­tri­al Court's de­ci­sion on Mon­day which ruled in favour of the union and forced the com­pa­ny to hold its hand in the ter­mi­na­tion of work­ers.

The com­pa­ny has filed an ap­peal of that de­ci­sion at the Ap­peal Court.

Es­pinet dur­ing his ra­dio in­ter­view said that the in­junc­tion on­ly pro­tects the unionised staff and more than 300 non-unionised work­ers have re­ceived sev­er­ance let­ters.

"I would say that it was struc­tured and giv­en laws in the con­text of a dif­fer­ent time. I think the time has come now for us to re­view it like we re­view every­thing else to see if it is rel­e­vant in to­day's en­vi­ron­ment," Es­pinet said.

He said he would feel the same way about the In­dus­tri­al Court even if it ruled in favour of the com­pa­ny and not the union.

"This is not an un­usu­al sit­u­a­tion. We may want to re­view the In­dus­tri­al Re­la­tions Act, we may want to do a num­ber of things be­cause the court has gone in­to a stage now where it may not be rel­e­vant to the con­text of what's go­ing on," he said.

De­spite the crit­i­cism, Es­pinet said he worked with unions in the past both lo­cal­ly and abroad and had a lot of re­spect for them.

"This is an ex­pres­sion as an in­di­vid­ual and I have ab­solute­ly no prob­lem with a union. I do have a prob­lem when some of what we are do­ing does not make sense," he said.

He said once a court rules that the fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion of a com­pa­ny should not im­pact on the de­ci­sion-mak­ing process, then "some­thing was wrong".

Es­pinet said that over 300 work­ers have al­ready ac­cept­ed their sev­er­ance pack­ages.

"Well, you know that the court rul­ing was very spe­cif­ic. This is on­ly for mem­bers of the OW­TU or those peo­ple work­ing un­der the var­i­ous col­lec­tive agree­ments of the OW­TU," he said.

"I think there are more than 300, in terms of the peo­ple, in­volved in cer­tain ar­eas. It is more than that," he said.

Es­pinet said ac­cord­ing to his own feed­back peo­ple, in gen­er­al, have been more ac­com­mo­dat­ing to the idea that the re­fin­ery was about to shut down.

"It would use­ful for some­one to go in­to the com­pa­ny and do a prop­er analy­sis of the feed­back, as you know the union is the ex­clu­sive bar­gain­ing agent for the em­ploy­ees. You can­not have an arrange­ment with an em­ploy­ee as the em­ploy­ee los­es their in­di­vid­ual rights," he said.

- by Renuka Singh

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