Unrest at Hess Oil!

The closure of the Hess Corporation’s refinery in St Croix in January of this year raised several questions about the status of Hess operations in St Lucia. Thousands of workers were laid off in that country as the Hovensa LLC refinery closed its doors and was said to be converted to a complex that would operate as an oil storage terminal.
The issues at the St Croix refinery are far from over, according to an article that appeared in the St Croix Source last week. St Croix Governor John deJongh Jr has taken the company to task and issued an ultimatum to Hovensa executives to reopen the refinery or sell it. The August 7 piece states that St Croix “has been awash in rumours and speculation as to the fate of the refinery.”
“Since the closure, the company has championed the idea of converting the refinery into an oil storage facility,” states the article.         “The facility would employ around 100 people, far fewer than the approximately 2,000 previously employed at the refinery, and would require several new tax concessions from the V.I. government to function. In a speech to the nation the governor recalled the day John Hess, chief executive officer of Hess Corporation, called to inform him that the following day Hovensa would announce the refinery was closing.”
Stated deJongh: “Mr. Hess was not calling to ask us to do anything or to ask me for our thoughts on the matter. He was simply calling to inform the government and the people of the Virgin Islands of a decision that had already been made. That we received less than 24 hours notice was a sure indicator of just how little the U.S. Virgin Islands has come to mean to Hess, as well as for its partner, PDVSA, despite the fact that the Virgin Islands and its people have been partners with Hess for the better part of a half a century,” deJongh continued.                According to the St Croix Source deJongh dismissed Hovensa’s oil storage facility proposal, saying it simply would not benefit the territory.
Employees at the Hess Oil storage facility in St Lucia have had their own rumours to deal with when it comes to the status of the company here. At first it was thought that the closure of Hess Corp’s Hovensa refinery would mean the company’s efforts would be focused on establishing an oil refinery in Saint Lucia. After all, during the tenure of the Compton-King administration there had been talk of an agreement being signed in that regard. That has since been denied by Hess officials. Instead the company has announced plans to sell the facility.
According to sources, employees have been uneasy over the lack of information they are receiving about the sale of the crude oil refined products and storage terminal at Cul de Sac. In March of this year St Lucia’s prime minister and workers were reportedly informed about the potential sale.
At the time Dr Kenny Anthony said: “If the sale does go through and one does not know, because in the discussion that followed the disclosure Hess Oil Corporation did indicate that if they do not get a sale in accordance with the terms they have every intention to remain here, so we shall see but they have indicated that they prefer to focus on oil exploration instead of the buying and selling or distribution of fuel.”
But what has happened since March? Has Hess secured a satisfactory buyer for the facility? And if so where does that leave the staff.
According to an insider, efforts to find out about the status of the sale have been stonewalled. Employees were reportedly told that although a potential buyer has been secured negotiations are not yet complete. Added to the frustrations of the employees are unresolved issues regarding what would become of their jobs once the company is sold and the still yet unsettled issue of employees being compensated for working on public holidays.
The STAR has been reliably informed that the Labour department has been brought in to settle this particular dispute.
“From the inception of the company’s operations in St Lucia they have been recognizing 10 of St Lucia’s 13 public holidays,” said an employee. “Since 2002 there has been an outcry from employees for the company to recognize the entitled 13 constitutionally due public holidays and retroactive payment due, with no success.”
The employee stated that on July 26 the company had agreed to recognize St Lucia’s Bank Holidays and extend a three-year retroactive payment to employees. The company is apparently following a statute of limitations on such issues and employees are none too happy.  Considering that Hess was made aware of this issue since 2002 employees feel they should be compensated from that time. The latest word is that negotiations between the employees and management of Hess have hit a roadblock with the company refusing to budge on this issue. This latest turn of events could mean employees could resort to industrial action if an agreement is not reached.
More on this story next week.

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