MOST members of the Petrotrin Employees Pension Plan are in danger of not receiving their full pension benefits due to a $1.6 billion deficit in the plan.
President-General of the Oilfield Workers’ Trade Union, Ancel Roget, said those in danger include employees who retired before the closure of Petrotrin in November 2018, those who attained the age of retirement after the closure as well as those who are yet to attain the age of retirement.
Roget said when Government announced the closure of the State-owned oil company, actuaries Bacon Woodrow and De Souza Ltd would have told the then-chairman of Petrotrin, Wilfred Espinet, that with the plan already in deficit, if the company was closed and workers sent home leading to no more contributions coming into the plan, the plan would be in further jeopardy.
This would have meant the company, meaning the Government, would need to fund the deficit to ensure that workers already retired or due to retire, would receive all of the benefits due to them.
Roget, who was speaking during a press conference at the union’s Paramount Building, San Fernando headquarters yesterday, stated that the actuaries recommended that an initial injection of $250 million be made, followed by annual payments of $135 million for the next ten years.
He noted that despite the OWTU raising the issue publicly as well as with Espinet, and despite Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley, former energy minister Franklin Khan (deceased), Finance Minister Colm Imbert, then-national security minister now Energy Minister Stuart Young, and Espinet himself, all guaranteeing that the Government would make good on this payment, none has been made to date.
“They haven’t injected that $250 million as the first major payment.”
He said an actuarial valuation report dated September 30, 2019, reminded the company that the pension plan is still in deficit and it needed an injection of $135 million per annum for the next ten years to take care of the deficit.
“That would not have been required if workers were at work, but you took a decision to shut the company down and put in jeopardy a benefit workers had already worked for,” Roget said, directing his statement at the Government.
He added that numerous requests to Petrotrin and Trinidad Petroleum Holdings Ltd (TPHL) as to their response to the recommendations went unheeded.
As a result, Roget said, the OWTU has engaged the services of the law firm of attorney Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj SC.
“By letter dated May 28, our attorneys wrote to TPHL and the trustee Republic Bank, enquiring how and when are they going to treat with the recommendations of the actuaries as it pertains to funding the deficit of the plan.
“Republic Bank’s attorneys M Hamel-Smith and Company, having received the legal letter, responded questioning the OWTU’s right, to raise questions on behalf of our members.”
Responding to Hamel-Smith’s questioning of the OWTU’s rights to seek answers on behalf of its members, Roget said it was the OWTU as the recognised majority union that negotiated the plan and even as workers retired, it is the OWTU that negotiates improvements on the pension benefits on behalf of the retirees.
“Our senior counsel wrote to Hamel-Smith on July 1, with authorisation letters signed by 135 members individually, giving the OWTU authorisation to ask Hamel-Smith the critical questions on their behalf.
“That would have been sent to Hamel-Smith, and then we never heard from Hamel-Smith again.
“In response to that, up comes another big name. JD Sellier then jumps in on July 5 to say that it is not TPHL but rather it’s Petrotrin.”
He said on July 12 Maharaj wrote a second pre-action protocol letter to which was attached the first pre-action letter as well as a list of the names of the 135 members, with copies being delivered to the Petrotrin’s Corporate Secretary, TPHL’s attorneys, JD Sellier and Hamel-Smith.
“Our senior counsel has responded to everybody now and all of them are in possession of this bundle ,which is treating with the critical question of what is happening with the $135 million per annum recommended by the actuaries to ensure that the pension plan pays the benefits due to workers, which they are entitled to,” said Roget.
Roget said there are some 7,000 retirees currently with more to come as everyone retrenched in 2018 with more than five years’ service is entitled to pension benefits.
He also noted that the company has a history of using monies from the pension plan to fund their legal bill anytime they have legal battles to respond to or anything to do with the plan.