A strong safety culture is vital for the continued success and competitiveness of the Trinidad & Tobago energy sector. Every individual working on any energy sector facility has a duty to stop work at any situation that will put themselves or others in harm’s way. Under Trinidad & Tobago’s Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), companies need to have policies in place where workers are informed of their responsibility to stop any unsafe work and systems in place to investigate any “stop work” incidents. This is also one of the requirements that contractors need to demonstrate in order to be certified under the Safe to Work (STOW) programme. At present, there are over 500 certified companies in the country. 

One of the unfortunate features of Trinidad & Tobago’s industrial relations environment over the years, has been the flagrant misuse of this “stop work duty” by trade unions as a cover for illegal strike action over pay. There are frequent cases in which trade unions persuade their members to down tools citing safety concerns, when they are actually involved in disputes over pay. This is extremely damaging to safety culture and undermines the entire safety management in the sector. 

The Energy Chamber of Trinidad and Tobago urges all workers and their representatives to stop using alleged safety violations as an excuse for illegal strikes and shutting down projects. 

Companies with strong safety management systems have a culture in which all incidents are reported and investigated. The fact that there are reports of near-misses or other documented safety issues does not mean that the company has poor safety management systems. In fact, just the opposite. It is therefore highly irresponsible for trade unions to use reports of safety issues as an excuse to organise an illegal strike over pay: trade unions should be working with management to report, investigate and resolve as many safety issues as possible. 

Adherence to world-class safety management systems played an extremely important role in the ability of TOFCO to deliver the Juniper topside on schedule with high-quality work. TOFCO achieved more than 2 million manhours without a Lost Time Incident on the Juniper construction project: this is excellent safety performance. Allegations of poor safety management both damage the reputation of the company and the local industry and are not supported by the facts. The protests that shut down the Juniper project and caused delays were about jobs and a few individuals trying to seek direct personal benefits. Safety was used as an excuse for illegal strike action. 

The recent illegal action by 22 Lennox Petroleum Services workers on the Rowan EXL II rig also used safety as a cover for an illegal strike. The right to refuse work, as enshrined in the OSH Act, is very specific and there are explicit procedures in the law that need to be followed. The right to refuse work is not in the legislation to provide a cover for illegal strikes over pay. Misusing this important provision in the law undermines safety. 

In the energy sector, where risks are high, safety is the top priority. We urge trade unions to stop treating safety as something to be misused in pay bargaining processes or on political platforms.