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States tries to intervene in Petrotrin case

Published: 
Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Derek Achong

Government is attempting to intervene in the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU)'s application for an injunction to stop Petrotrin from terminating workers.

Lawyers for the State signalled their intention this morning when the application came up for hearing before a five member panel at the Industrial Court in Port-of-Spain.

In brief submissions, Senior Counsel Seenath Jairam, who is leading the Office of Attorney General's legal team, said Government wanted to intervene in the case to raise public interest concerns that would arise if the injunctive relief is granted.

"The Government is of the view that for Petrotrin to continue as is, it will be a burden that the country and taxpayers cannot bear," he said.

While Petrotrin's attorney Vanessa Gopaul did not object to the move, it was strongly opposed by Senior Counsel Douglas Mendes, who is leading the OWTU's legal team. He argued that the State had no jurisdiction to enter the cases.

Mendes said the legal action stems from an industrial relations offence which his client filed against the company for allegedly failing to engage in collective bargaining. that offence, the only criminal charge under the Industrial Relations Act, carries a maximum fine of $4,000.

If granted, the injunction will block Petrotrin from terminating workers pending the Industrial Court's determination of the industrial relations offence.

Although he admitted that the alleged offence arose out of an ongoing dispute between the company and the union over the closure of the company, Mendes said the State could only intervene if that matter reaches the court.

Industrial Court president Deborah Thomas-Felix and her colleagues appeared to agree with Mendes' point. However, Jairam agreed to withdraw the State's application before they could rule on it. He said the State would make a formal application to be joined as a party to the proceedings.

The issue of the State's application occupied the court for most of the hearing.

In any event, the injunction application would not have been heard, as lawyers for the OWTU and Petrotrin had previously agreed it should be adjourned to tomorrow morning because Petrotrin's lead counsel, Reginald Armour, SC, is abroad.

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