Christmas this year would have been extra special for Nikeisha Benasrie-Arjoon and her husband, as their first child is expected on December 24. But the family now faces an uncertain future after they were both terminated by Petrotrin.
Almost at full term, Benasrie-Arjoon was one of the hundreds of former workers who lined up at the Petrotrin Sports Club to submit proof of filing their 2017 income tax in order to qualify for a tax exemption on their separation package. The Point Fortin mother-to-be said her husband was also caught in the Petrotrin exodus and has been searching for a new job for the past months without success.
Benasrie-Arjoon said she had an experience as a lab technician in Petrotrin LNE in Santa Flora which was also disheartening and now making her severance payment complicated. She said when she got pregnant she required a temporary relocation away from the lab as chemicals can be hazardous to a baby’s health. Instead of being transferred, she has been home since May without a salary and without any information on when she would have been back on the job. It also meant that she did not submit enough NIS contributions during one of her many stints as a casual Petrotrin worker over the past four years. Then came the news that workers were being terminated.
“I had to wait to be relocated and that was since May. I was not getting a relocation to anywhere else, so I kept calling. When the news came out (Petrotrin shutdown), I realised why I was not getting placed in another department,” Benasrie-Arjoon told the T&T Guardian.
“I guess they had their plans to do this so I was not being relocated to any department. I have been home since May and I was temporary, so I was not being paid during that time.” Reflecting on the refinery was emotional for the workers yesterday. Some cursed the Government, some cried while others embraced the friends they made over the years and recalled good times.
But they were all upset over the treatment they got as after being blocked from entering the compound to submit their documents on Monday, they were made to stand in the morning sun from 7 am yesterday to drop their documents in a cardboard box on the ground and sign their names on a sheet of paper.
Benasrie-Arjoon said last Friday was already stressful for workers and having to return to the company under such conditions made it worse. She said this was due to the fact that in their termination letters, Petrotrin stated that severance and other payments would be made on or before November 30. Suddenly, however, it has changed with the company issuing a release stating that taxes must be done in order to get the full payment promised.
On their future, she said, “The plan is to look for whatever can sustain us for the time being. The market is saturated so we just have to wait and trust God because he is in control of everything.
“Our baby is due on Christmas Eve. This is our first baby. This is an experience, but you know we trust God that he has his plan.”
Arjoon’s cousin Sintra Benasrie, who worked as a lab technician in Pointe-a-Pierre, said she went on the JobsTT website and saw that her job was being advertised in the new entity which replaced Petrotrin. She applied but like many others, did not receive any feedback.
“We are still waiting but we are hearing that other people got the contract and are ready to start working so we don’t know if they sent out things separately.
“My position was available on the site. It was the same position, the exact requirements. I have a BSc in Chemistry and Environment, just like what they asked for. I honestly thought there would be a rehiring process, meaning that I would have got an interview,” Benasrie said.
She said she has been applying for jobs elsewhere but it hasn’t been going well.
“I got emotional when I drove in and saw the refinery because I worked here all the time. We used to be doing fieldwork, climbing these structures. It was hard work so we worked for our salaries. On top of that, we had to put our health at risk from breathing in H2S and all these chemical and now it’s like nothing,” she said.
E&P worker Anthony, who did not want to give his full name, was among a group of men discussing how the company was shut down, saying that lies were told to fool people into believing that it was the right decision. He said refinery workers were not making $45,000 per month, nor were temporary workers were collecting $21,000 as Energy Minister Franklin Khan said.
During a PNM party meeting at the Marabella Community Facility three months ago, Khan said there was a carpenter who had collected $70,000 in overtime in a month. However, the workers said Petrotrin had not employed carpenters in a decade.
"There were a lot of lies coming from high offices, ministers and the board, and they fired us. Innocent workers got fired and now I am waiting to see the results of this unfold,” Anthony said.