Indarsingh concerned for NiQuan workers

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

Couva South MP Rudranath Indarsingh. – File photo by Jeff K Mayers

COUVA South MP Rudranath Indarsingh said the roughly 80 workers sent home last week from NiQuan Energy could suffer financially due to the Government allegedly breaking its past promise to amend the law.

“Even as 80 workers are being sent home by NiQuan, we see they have none of the protection promised to them by NiQuan.”

At a UNC briefing on April 5, he said a minister in the Government’s first term had promised to amend the Retrenchment and Severance Benefits Act. Indarsingh said this had never been done, so that today severed/retrenched workers remain “at the bottom of the totem pole” in order of priority to be compensated whenever a firm closes down. He recalled such a promise being made during the Arcelor-Mittal steel plant saga where workers had won a pay rise in the courts, only for the company to be suddenly shut down leaving workers empty-handed.

NiQuan was a private effort to restart a past bid by Government-run World GTL to convert natural gas into synthetic petroleum, but NiQuan had problems including a temporary shut-down to investigate the accidental death of worker Allanlane Ramkissoon. Former vice president David Small won a court order for $21 million as his separation and then filed a winding up petition on the company. The court since gave Republic Bank until June 3 to submit a plan to save NiQuan. Founder Ainsley Gill said NiQuan’s assets were worth more than Small’s award and its other debts.

Indarsingh complained of the Government, saying NiQuan was a private entity, such that it was not the Government to decide if to publicise the results of probes into the April 2021 NiQuan explosion and the July 2023 death.

“This has been the track-record and the approach of the Government,” he alleged, alleging a lack of governmental action and/or public information on several industrial tragedies. Referring to the deaths of four men in the Paria diving tragedy, he said, “Where is the OSH agency’s report into these deaths?”

Indarsingh added, “Kern Etienne at WASA? Rossi Mansingh at the Arcelor-Mittal plant?”

Last October, Etienne was in a crew repairing a sewer line in San Fernando, standing inside a trench when a mound of dirt collapsed into it, trapping him underneath, later dying in hospital after being dug out. Mansingh, an electrical engineer, died in hospital on January 22, four days after suffering electrical burns while working on the site of the former steel plant at Point Lisas.

“Where are the reports?”Indarsingh asked.

He said the Occupational Safety and Health (OSH) Agency investigated these deaths as mandated by law, yet up to today the reports were not made public.

Indarsingh questioned the idea of details about NiQuan being guarded as a private company, saying much of the company’s funding came from Republic Bank, whose own shareholders (owners) he named. He said while these were portrayed as private entities, they actually hugely exposed the taxpayer of Trinidad and Tobago. He listed this funding as $1.2 billion, while saying taxpayer had funded WTL by $2.7 million. “There is a great deal of worry in the financial system of this country.”

“We want to know what is the debt portfolio as it relates to NiQuan, in terms of ranging from its financiers to its legal obligations to contractors and to the 80 employees of NiQuan.”

He asked if this sum was US$400 million, that is, about $2.5 million.

Indarsingh wondered whether if when Republic Bank was funding NiQuan, was a risk assessment done by the Government and Republic Bank, and was collateral offered.

He also hoped workers had been properly credited for any deductions made from their salaries for the health surcharge, income tax and pensions.