Showers of rain did not stop workers from the TT Electricity Commission (T&TEC) from protesting outside the Public Utilities Ministry on Alexandra Street, St Clair, on Friday.
They were again calling for the minister, Marvin Gonzales, to meet with their union, the Oilfield Workers Trade Union (OWTU), to discuss the problems at T&TEC, including what they said was corruption in the contracting process, staffing, and contract workers.
OWTU president general Ancel Roget said the union is calling for the suspension of the contractor whom T&TEC has hired to assist with clearing of vegetation.
“A particular contractor was responsible for the tree-cutting, for vegetation issues, that led to the shutting-down of the country for one day.”
This was a reference to the February 16 Trinidad-wide blackout.
Roget claimed, “The same contractor is featured again where another tree fell in Santa Cruz and left communities without electricity for over eight hours.
“No sort of action is taken against contractors who are clearly at fault, because there is clearly a connection between management and certain contractors, and we need to talk about that.”
OWTU T&TEC vice president Reesa Ramlogan-Jodha said even though the union called for the contractor’s suspension pending an investigation, management had refused to suspend the contractor, who was still part of the commission’s systems.
Roget also called for the confirmation of contract workers, some of whom he said had been there for almost a decade on contract.
“Why is T&TEC refusing to confirm these people and then bringing in contractors to fill the gaps? Why are they refusing to hire skilled labour?
“It will affect the efficiency of the delivery of electricity to customers. We have been asking for the result of a manpower audit so we can see where the gaps are. We can’t even get an organisational structure for the commission – is there one?”
Ramlogan-Jodha said the way the commission is currently operating, workers were being lost by attrition, as they left because they couldn’t handle the working conditions.
“There are workers leaving and their positions are not being filled. Then you have the commission asking workers to double and triple up on the functions they perform, and that isn’t right. You can’t do something like that without sitting with the recognised majority union.”
Roget said the understaffing contributed to the money woes at the commission.
“Workers asked to work double shifts, work exorbitant overtime, then you would see the same minister, Cabinet, government publishing the amount of overtime at T&TEC, making that the reason for criticising T&TEC, for privatising T&TEC, when in fact what leads to the overtime is the non-filling of vacancies and so on. So they are setting T&TEC up to be put on the chopping block.”
He said there were undertones of retrenchment in the way the government and management were behaving, as had been seen with TSTT and Petrotrin.
“They refuse to deal with the real, critical issues, and then come and make an announcement based on recommendations from who knows where. They refuse to sit down and discuss the issues needed to get the company performing, because they are building towards sending workers home.
“We want none of that.”
Roget said Gonzales had indicated he had passed one of the letters previously delivered to him by the union to the T&TEC board, as was proper procedure.
Roget said the issues had reached a point where talking to the board would not help, as the line minister’s interventionwas needed. He suggested Gonzales was not responding to the union’s call for a meeting because he was being held back by the Prime Minister.
Gonzales could not be reached for comment up until press time.