In a desperate act to get their outstanding backpay before Christmas, former workers of Lennox Petroleum brought their wives and children to protest yesterday.
As they demanded that the company pay US$9.5 million retroactively, the workers said they wanted the company officials to see the impact the struggle was having on their children.
But the company officials stayed indoors. Some of the children held up placards which read, “Pay the workers to please,” and God doesn’t like wickedness.”
One child carried a placard which begged Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley to get involved.
Chief Labour Relations Officer of the Oilfields Worker’s Trade Union (OWTU) Lyndon Mendoza said the escalation of protest was meant to get the company to pay the workers as many of them had mounting bills and could no longer support their families.
He denied that this was an exploitation of children’s rights.
“This is in pursuit of justice for the ex-workers of Lennox Petroleum. The workers have brought their families inclusive of their wives and children to help the public and the authorities to understand that this is a real issue impacting the lives of workers and their families and by extension the community,” he explained.
He noted that Rowan Drilling paid monies to Lennox Petroleum to pay retroactive wages.
“For reasons knowing only to the managing director Wayne Persad, they have withheld the monies owed to the workers. Workers went to Industrial Court and got a court ruling on June 8 which said monies ought to be paid on September 30. The company made an unsuccessful appeal for a stay of execution of the payment. Judgement was delivered on November 23 and the company had to pay immediately. However from then to now the company has failed to pay and workers have been consistently protesting,” Mendoza said.
He explained that Lennox has to pay $US9 million in retroactive payment.
Mendoza also questioned why the authorities have not stood up in defence of the workers noting that the company was in direct violation of the court judgement.
“Why is there a deafening silence from the authorities. Nothing from the Minister of Labour and Minister of National Security, nothing from the Prime Minister,” Mendoza said.
One worker Dominic Toussaint said they were taking a risk during the global pandemic to protest.
“People are coming here from as far as Guayaguayare, Toco, Mayaro and all we want is what is owed to us,” Toussaint said.
Another worker Jones Richardson said it was time for the government to intervene in the struggle.
“I am feeling it. I find that it is time for the government to step in because it is impacting negatively on my finances, my family and my house building,” he said.
But in a statement, Lennox Petroleum said the workers’ actions were meant to be intimidatory saying it must be stopped immediately.
Saying the labour dispute litigation process is ongoing, the company said its legal team has applied for an interpretation of the court order.
“Since the OWTU failed to present any evidence before the Court to determine who are the workers to which the judgment relates; how much money is owed and what is the specific time-period for which the workers are claiming interest, the LPSL legal team has taken concrete steps to resolve the said labour dispute amicably.”
The company said it has written to the OWTU in good faith on December 8 requesting a meeting facilitated by an Industrial Court Judge.
“To date, LPSL has received neither a formal response to the letter nor a request to meet with the OWTU, under the supervision of an appointed Industrial Court officials.
The company said it did not owe US$9.5 million to protesting workers.
Noting that the protests in front of the homes of company officials was a “form of intimidation and harassment and will in no way to resolve the said labour dispute amicably,” the company further said, “T&T law prescribes the means for the enforcement of judgments that are not paid.”
“Thus, failure by the OWTU to put before the court the amounts which they claim to be owed, in the court order dated: Wednesday 8th July 2020, cannot be enforced by the proper legal means. Thus, individuals donned in OWTU branded clothing have taken to enforcing the judgment by unlawful means. These labour protests are illegal and must “cease” immediately,” the company added.