Gas union still angry over Rubis move to cut Chong

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Don’t expect Rubis Energy’s decision to terminate the contract with petroleum dealer Phillip Chong to disappear anytime soon.

Last November Rubis moved against Chong, who then operated a service station along Water Lane in Kingston, and gave him one month to vacate the premises that he had advanced from a non-performing entity to a top-three operation, with critics suggesting that the move arose from Chong’s elevation to the post of president of the Jamaica Gasoline Retailers Association.

Chong is said to be examining his options, including legal possibilities, but the JGRA is still pushing for justice, and the current president, Gregory Chung, believes that Rubis and the other marketing companies need to look differently at how contracts are sealed.

“A lot of time people are thinking, oh it’s so simple, you sign a piece of paper which lists the 10 or 20 or 100 points, you agree to it, so what’s the problem?” Chung said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.

“The petroleum industry in Jamaica extends over 100 years. The industry has a culture or practice, a way of doing business in Jamaica and you have a company doing business in Jamaica for about five years now. They bring their own agenda and culture without looking at what is here and considering what is being practised here in Jamaica and impose their ways in the form of a contract. With these contracts … their overriding thing is that they have absolute authority, absolute right over every aspect of the business,” the JGRA president lamented.

“And so there is no consideration of what is practised in Jamaica… what is the culture of the petroleum retail trade in Jamaica and people that they have come here and see practising for many years in the trade. So for example, you operated this site, your father operated it and you got involved in the business and operate it now under the Shell brand. Rubis come in and takes it over and brought it out from whatever it was, Shell or Cool, and they come to you one day and say, ‘look this is the contract, you need to sign it’. Now you have invested 15 years, and your father 30 years of his life building the business and maintaining it. This is what feeds your kids and you live off it. They give you a contract and say, ‘this is our contract, please can I have it tomorrow, I have 10 other dealers waiting to take your site’. It’s not right.

“These are the situations that face our members and if it is that they would meet with us and say these are what we want and we can have some negotiations take place things wouldn’t be that bad, but they have refused to meet with the association. When the dealers get these contracts they are forced under duress to sign them. The marketing companies then use these contracts to have their way,” the president remarked.

Chung said that his colleague’s matter was one of the low blows delivered by the marketing company, all because, the president said, Chong did not do what Rubis had anticipated.

“With Phillip Chong’s situation, we feel very upset at the way he was terminated because he took the site that was basically underperforming, or closed, and brought it to the top three. He invested time and money. At the same time, he took over the post of JGRA president and here comes the bad gas saga, which unfortunately for Rubis saw quite a number of its sites being closed down by the Bureau of Standards. Also Rubis, an importer of fuel, had the minister send inspectors to test the fuel and upon the initial visit, Rubis locked the inspectors out and they didn’t have access. So that brought about a perception and a lot of rumours kept swirling about as to who was the source and so Rubis was one of the companies rumoured, but the report that came back was inconclusive.

“Phillip Chong was president when he took over that site and he was terminated late last year with a letter, and the CEO says to him shortly after giving him the letter that Phillip did an interview on this day, on that day, with this media station when he was president of the JGRA and he did not defend Rubis in the bad gas saga. Now, talk about timing, talk about the ethical implications of you now penalising someone as the president of a separate organisation that he is supposed to do your job for you.

“How can you look at a man you have just terminated his business and say to him, as president you did interviews with the media and you didn’t defend Rubis in the bad gas saga. We at the JGRA find it distasteful.

“And you come to the media and say I am changing the business model. What business model do you need to change when this man brought the station to the top three. You have to look at these things and see, that’s why we say its victimisation,” Chung went on.

Chung cited the entry of Rubis into the Jamaican petroleum trade as one that has had marked negatives for dealers.

“Since Rubis has come to Jamaica five years now, 11 dealers have lost their sites. The last dealer in St Ann’s Bay operated for over 50 years, two generations running that site and she was given notice for renovation. They took the site, and gave her two weeks’ notice to come out. When they were paving the place and the finishing touches were being put on it, she went to the company and said ‘when should I come back’. They said to her ‘you are not going back in there’. She said why, and they said ‘you have been terminated and you are not going back in there’. She said ‘I don’t understand, and that was it.

“That was the level of discourse. Upon speaking to the CEO, he goes on to tell me that the lady was old, she couldn’t manage, the customer service scores were poor and the exercise is to optimise and improve the gas station, because he needs a younger, more energetic person. All the while he is telling me this, I am looking at my desk and seeing an award from the marketing company for long service.

“Whereas we in Jamaica have respect and regard for our elders who have been there and have the experience and have put in the time, he is saying that they are a liability, they need some young people who can deal with the time and be innovative.

“Rubis is one of the only ones that deal with dealers that way. There are other multinationals that have similar unfair contracts but to have the mindset to execute some of these clauses in these contracts, Rubis is the one that don’t have the consideration.

“We in Jamaica are a relationship-based culture. We put a high value on the relationships we develop and this is how I think we get ahead. There is absolutely no value on the dealer and how they are treated.

“They own the land, they own the brand, they own everything. The only thing that they don’t own is the dealer,” said Chung.

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