When she lost her job in Petrotrin two months before Christmas in 2018, Sheila Thomas felt like her entire world had fallen apart.Two years later she is again facing unemployment. But this time, Thomas is convinced she is better prepared to deal with the crisis even though COVID-19 has made her circumstances even worse.
With the extraordinary drop in oil prices, Thomas said many of her colleagues were bracing for job loss. Some people who work with offshore service providers have already been sent home since the COVID-19 restrictions started in late March.
“When you go through retrenchment in a company that you built your life around it is very hard to get your life back together but when you do, you emerge stronger and better able to cope. Nothing phases me now,” Thomas told the Guardian Media.
Even after she got work with Kenson Group, Thomas said she has always been mindful that no job was secure.
“I started planting short crops and we sell at a roadside stall. If things get bad, I will have to plant what we eat and find some way to sell goods to pay our mortgage,” she said.
Another Petrotrin worker Graham Ghanpat, who got employment with Damus, said not all workers were as optimistic as Thomas.
“Many former Petrotrin workers who found new jobs with Damus and Kenson are really worried right now. Kenson was working with Heritage doing maintenance of land wells and platforms and compressors and pumps.Inland and Offshore Company Ltd (IOCL) and Well Services have shut down operations, they have been doing workovers which is servicing of wells. Some workers are on a drilling barge and doing work offshore but all of that is uncertain now,” Ghanpat said.
He noted that Heritage has given the notice to shutdown all contracted rigs. Those land rigs are down and workers are being sent home.
“This is causing another set of trauma for workers because, in these hard times, people are very worried about how they will mind their families,” Ghanpat said.
Former Petrotrin worker Damien Girdharrie said many of his former colleagues were actively looking for jobs.
“We had to simplify our lives after Petrotrin closed. How are we going to move forward? I spent 20 years of my life to get qualified as an engineer and now I do not know what career to go into. I have three children to mind and every day I worry,” Girdharrie said.
He added that when Petrotrin was in operation he worked for $122 per hour and when the company closed he was without employment for three months.
“I got a job in Point Lisas for $35 an hour and we had to make this work. Now my youngest child is six years and I am again facing unemployment. I have been home for the past two months because of COVID-19,” Girdharrie said.
He explained that the only hope for T&T was for the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery to be opened. “We have a lot of storage capacity and many qualified people who can run the refinery. Right now a barrel of oil is so cheap we can afford to buy oil and store it in our tanks at Barrackpore, Point Fortin and Santa Flora. When the refinery is finally back up we can utilise this oil to make gasoline and sell to the other Caribbean islands,” Girdharrie added.
Meanwhile, analyst Dr Ashford Maharaj said in an email, the OWTU’s company Patriotic Energies and Technologies should get prepared to stockpile oil. “What will happen to those contracts and the execution which will close in about one month from now (May 19) is anyone’s guess.
“But assuming that COVID-19 is still with us, a positive bet indeed, then a deep fall in the June price is also likely to follow in the same pattern as the May’s execution debacle. The June and July contracts for WTI crude are holding steady despite a relatively small decrease in prices, but if there is a capacity at the Pointe-a-Pierre refinery as I presume there is, then Patriotic Energies and Technologies should get prepared to seize the opportunity and start stockpiling crude oil at such low and even negative prices,” Maharaj said.
He added, “The is information in news circle that the Patriotic Energies will want to start refining crude oil come the third quarter of this year. I am wallowing in my disappointment that the refinery in Pointe-a-Pierre was not in operation at this time. Assuming we still had a refinery how great it would have been to grab such a lucrative once in a century opportunity to take some oil off the shelf?”
OWTU’s president general Ancel Roget could not be reached for comment.