Oil workers begin strike ...meeting with FG fails to hold
Oil workers’ strike commenced yesterday with the withdrawal of their members from offshore, loading bays and flow stations nationwide.
Last minute efforts by the federal government to prevent the strike collapsed as the meeting between the ministers of labour and petroleum resources with the workers’ failed to hold yesterday in Abuja.
The meeting called by Sen. Chris Ngige and Ibe Kachikwu to put a lasting solution to the lingering problems in the sector was postponed till today due to the Sallah holidays, a statement by labour ministry spokesman, Samuel Olowookere, said.
The National Public Relations Officer of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Comrade Emmanuel Ojugbana, told our reporter on phone that there was no meeting with the government
because the invitation came late and no date had been agreed with the government.
“In other words the strike continues,” he said.
Ojugbana in a statement later said the strike commenced despite the Eid el-Fitr holiday.
“Our members, especially those in offices and downstream sector, will join tomorrow (Friday) as they resume from the Eid el-Fitr holiday,” he added.
He said media reports that the strike had been called off or suspended was false.
“As we speak now, some of our members that are in the offshore have been withdrawn, while others who are on critical equipment have commenced gradual shut down of such equipment before their final disengagement,” he added.
Why the strike
The workers’ major grievance is the issue of Joint Venture (JV) funding and cash call debts owed International Oil Companies (IOCs) by the government.
Normally, two-thirds of Nigeria’s oil is produced under various JVs with IOCs like Shell, Chevron, Agip, etc, with the NNPC holding either a 55 or 60 percent equity interest in each joint venture.
Cash call payments are each partner’s share of the operating and capital expenses contributed by both partners to fund joint venture activities. The federal government, through the annual budget process, pays the cash call, but has not funded it adequately as the NNPC has for years amassed multi-billion dollar cash call debts.
Ojugbana said around $7bn was owed the companies as cash call arrears and that had meant delayed projects, no investments and sacking of union members by the companies.
Other reasons, according to the workers, include lingering irregular lack of clear cut directions on the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB), forceful co-option of government agencies in the industry into the Integrated Personnel Payroll Information System (IPPIS) and a spate of redundancies and retrenchments in the oil and gas industry.
NUPENG to join strike
Nigerians may gradually begin to experience fuel shortage in the days to come if the situation is not urgently arrested, as PENGASSAN said it had got the support of its sister union, the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), to join the strike.
Our correspondents gathered that representatives of NUPENG were at yesterday’s botched meeting in solidarity with PENGASSAN.
The strike could cripple activities in the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Petroleum Products Pricing Regulatory Agency (PPPRA), Petroleum Equalisation Fund (Monitoring Board) PEF (MB), Pipelines and Products Marketing Company (PPMC), National Petroleum Investment Management Services (NAPIMS), oil majors, labour and contract services companies.
Although union members insisted that the action originally commenced yesterday, there was no evidence of a strike in NAPIMS, PPMC and DPR offices when our correspondent visited there yesterday because of the extended Sallah break.
The Lagos Zonal chairman of PENGASSAN, Comrade Abel Agarin, told our correspondent that there was no going back on the plan by the union to protest the challenges in the sector.
Agarin said there was nothing concrete on ground in the immediate term to suggest that the federal government wanted his members to dialogue on the issue and marshal strategies to resolve them. According to him, PENGASSAN has carried out intensive mobilization to ensure that the industrial action is successful.
But the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and NUPENG have postponed the meeting with Federal Government over their planned strike till July 11 and as a result, the unions put the planned strike on hold. Alhaji Tokunbo Korodo, the South West Chairman, Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers made this known in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Lagos yesterday. According to Korodo, the meeting which was scheduled to take place yesterday was shifted due to public holiday. The chairman, who is one of NUPENG’s representatives, said both parties had agreed to meet on Monday, July 11 to deliberate on the issues affecting the unions. Our correspondent reports that PENGASSAN leaders however disputed the claim, saying the strike would go on.