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Colm Imbert MP, Minister of Finance.

Finance Minister Colm Imbert has denied he mislead the country when he alleged that the Industrial Court determined an increase in salary and other benefits for workers at State-owned National Petroleum Marketing Company Ltd (NP) that resulted in NP moving from a break-even position to loss-making.

Yesterday, the minister took to social media and issued a press release to address the issue.

“None of the assertions made in the article are accurate. The truth is that on December 4, 2019, the Industrial Court ruled on a trade dispute (Trade dispute No. GSD-TD 510/2018) in favour of the OWTU regarding the payment of Cost of Living Allowance (COLA) and denied NP’s application that the dispute be dismissed for want of prosecution. In that decision, the court ordered NP to resume payment of COLA,” said Imbert in a press release yesterday.

“This was a decision of the court,” said Imbert in the release which explained further, “The Union subsequently sought an interpretation of the effective date of the consolidation of COLA, arguing that on a proper interpretation of the pleadings and facts in the matter, the consolidation of COLA should be retroactive to 2011. There was no dispute between the parties on this interpretation of the facts and this was by consent on December 19, 2020.”

The release stated the court’s ruling on January 22 did not amount to a “negotiated settlement”.

Imbert denied that he ever referred to a wage increase of 11 per cent at the press conference but rather explained that the negotiated increased along with the consolidation of Cost of Living Allowances the effective wage increase amounted in excess of 20 per cent.

According to Imbert he said at the news conference: “By way of example, the Industrial Court has determined a wage increase for National Petroleum with consolidation of COLA going back nine years to 2011. The effective wage increases were in excess of 20 per cent and having implemented the increases, NP has moved from barely breaking even to a loss position of over $50 million in 2020, which is just not sustainable.”

In closing the minister said of the Industrial Court’s ruling, “These decisions cannot by any stretch of the imagination be described as negotiated settlements. There was also a consent order on December 19, 2019, clarifying the interpretation of an aspect of the December 4, 2019, decision of the court on COLA. The reality is that the manpower cost increases that resulted from these matters have placed NP in a loss position.”

Contrary to the minister’s press release, the Sunday Guardian article was clear that there was a court decision regarding salary increase and that the negotiated settlement surrounded issue of the COLA.

The article read: “There was a court judgement of a seven per cent increase for workers. However, this is separate and apart from the issue of COLA and other benefits.”

Imbert also did not indicate in coming to its judgement for a seven percent increase in salaries the court took into account what NP’s own expert witness who felt the company could have afforded a wage increase of between 0 and nine per cent. The court awarded seven per cent even though the OWTU wanted 14 percent.

On the issue of the COLA, the Sunday Guardian article was clear that there was agreement by both parties that the COLA had to be paid from 2011. This was a crucial agreement because the length of time that the COLA had to be paid would impact the quantum to be paid and the impact of any consolidation that would have happened.