Finance Minister Colm Imbert

Finance Minister Colm Imbert was wrong when he told the country that the Industrial Court determined an increase in salary and other benefits for workers at State-owned National Petroleum Marketing Company Limited that resulted in NP moving from a break-even position to loss-making.

Guardian Media has evidence that Imbert’s story is untrue and that it was the State-appointed Board of Directors and the management of NP who reached a negotiated settlement with the Oilfield’s Workers Trade Union on the issue of COLA (Cost of Living Allowance) and its back pay.

On Wednesday Imbert told a 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 wages increase 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. Simply put, if excessive wage increases are granted in the state sector, then employment levels may have to be reduced because the additional money simply isn’t there.”

Guardian Media has copies of the court documents in relation to Imbert’s NP example and they show a completely different story from what the minister has given.

There was a court judgment of a seven per cent increase for workers. However, this is separate and apart from the issue of COLA and other benefits.

The court documents show that on December 13, 2019, the parties—NP and OWTU—indicated to the court that they had settled their trade dispute.

To understand the process, the OWTU took NP to court over the non-payment of COLA and when the matter came before the judges of the Industrial Court, NP and the OWTU informed them that a settlement had been reached leading to a consent order from the court.

A consent order is issued when a settlement is reached by parties themselves without the intervention of a court of competent jurisdiction, for example, the Industrial Court or the High Court.

The court registers all lawful terms of settlement which parties enter into. The consent order which gave rise to the restoration of COLA and the back pay of COLA arose out of terms of settlement executed by NP and the OWTU.

Sources indicate that there is great concern among members of the Industrial Court due to Imbert’s misrepresentation of its role in the NP financial challenge since the court played no part in arriving at or the execution of the settlement and it was the product of the OWTU and NP.

Sunday Guardian called the Finance Minister on three occasions and he answered the third call. However, when he learnt it was Sunday Guardian he simply said ‘have a good day’ and hung up the phone.

Sunday Guardian also reached out to Imbert via text message and asked the following questions:

1. Can you say if you told the truth when you claimed the industrial court determined a matter between NP and the OWTU that led to NP moving from a break-even position to one of a loss?

2. If this is not true, would you be prepared to admit and apologise for what would be a misrepresentation of the facts?

3. Were you aware that the company actually settled with the union and the court never determined any matter?

Up to late yesterday the minister did not respond.

Education Officer of the OWTU Ozzi Warwick told the Sunday Guardian that the Minister of Finance was being less than honest when he said the salary increase was equivalent to 11 per cent when it was seven. Also according to Warwick, the NP management gave themselves a 13 per cent increase for the same period.

Warwick said, “He failed to say that the management of NP gave themselves 13 to 14 per cent increase and that can only be done with expressed approval of the Board and the line minister. The NP management took a decision not to pay workers their COLA since 2011 and no one asks who made that decision, who is responsible for the need for back pay? Decisions are made and no one held accountable and then the workers must pay the price.”

Both Imbert and Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley have argued that the country cannot afford to increase salaries in the state sector.