RESIDENTS of Silk Cotton Drive, Marabella, staged a protest yesterday morning outside NiQuan Energy Trinidad’s gas-to-liquids (GTL) Pointe-a-Pierre plant.
Frustrated and angry over what they deem as a disrespect by NiQuan, which has yet to meet with them following the explosion at the plant over a week ago to address their concerns, residents are now calling on the company to stop playing games and provide answers about their safety, as well as information on the investigation into the explosion.
One resident, Bryan Hamlet, a former Petrotrin employee, who was also employed at NiQuan, says he is disappointed by the company’s lack of response, and hopes it is not an attempt by NiQuan to try to “sweep the matter under the rug”.
He said, “Look at what is happening in the country. Right now it is difficult for everybody. We already worried about Covid, now we have to worry about our safety regarding our proximity to NiQuan. I heard work started back up at the plant, but how can that be with an investigation going on?”
Hamlet said he spoke to an employee at the company, who confirmed it and expressed concerns about the safety of all workers at the plant.
Malcolm Wells, vice-president of corporate affairs at NiQuan Energy, has denied the claim, and says operations at the plant has not resumed.
He told the Express yesterday they will not issue any update until the investigators have reported back and they have assessed their findings.
Wells said regarding communication with residents, there were several factors which have not permitted the company to fully engage with them since the incident.
He said, “NiQuan has appointed corporate communications specialists All Media Projects Ltd (AMPLE) to manage our engagement programme and is currently finalising the formalities of a process which will allow residents to express their concerns in a two-way process and will also consider the issue of possible damage. This has taken longer than we would have wished, but any engagement process must be responsible with regard to Covid precautions which rule out a more conventional approach, including an instant community presence and physical town halls. This has slowed the process down.”
Residents feel overlooked
“Under the circumstances, it is likely that any engagement will be on a virtual basis, but the principle will be that individuals will be able to contact the company with their concerns and that the company will respond to them directly via a community relations portal now being established,” Wells said.
Since the closure of Petrotrin, Hamlet has struggled to find employment and to provide for his family.
He said, “There are so many ex-Petrotrin employees in Marabella, unemployed and struggling to make ends meet. Despite our qualifications, we are still overlooked for employment at NiQuan. I hustle on the road to make some money. Whether it is taxi work or odds jobs, just to put food on my table. Imagine, I was an A-class fitter at Petrotrin, and look where I end up now.”
With regards to Marabella residents being overlooked for jobs at NiQuan, Wells said it is not true.
“NiQuan’s recruitment system is fair and transparent, and can only be accessed via a portal on the company website and trinidadjobs.com, where anyone is able to apply for available jobs. All CVs posted there are assessed on merit, and the recruitment process is then applied accordingly. Our objective is to attract and retain the best talent, and it would make no sense to overlook anyone. We have a zero-tolerance policy for anyone who tries to circumvent the system,” he said.
“We have been assisting various agencies as well as carrying out our own assessments, ensuring the welfare of our employees and establishing a community engagement process which we will be activating shortly,” Wells said.
Being mindful of the Covid-19 health regulations, residents say the demonstration was necessary to keep the situation in the public’s eye and to ensure NiQuan officials provide answers.