In what observers see as bold moves by government to avert a bad omen by way of strike for the year, the Federal Government is wading into the face-off between the petroleum workers’ union and some oil companies operating in the country, Business Day reports.
The move followed the announced plan by the Nigerian Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) to proceed on a three-day warning strike from January 11, in protest against alleged violation of the country’s extant labour laws and anti-workers’ disposition of the oil companies.
In the southwest, NUPENG said on Thursday, it ordered its members to stop work at all Total fuel truck depots, over what Tokunbo Korodo, the southwest chairman of the union, also linked to sacking of workers. “We have stopped operations of Total, pending the outcome of our discussion with the management”, said Korodo.
NUPENG lists among it grievances, the purported total closure of Chevron’ eastern operations through divestment and refusal to discuss the redundancy terms and its refusal to facilitate the formation of the Chevron Labour Contractors Forum to interface with NUPENG. They further purport that Chevron’s refusal to allow workers to unionise is causing industrial relations tension.
“The other issues include Tecon Oil Services management reneging on the communiqué signed with the union on offloading the severance benefits of its members working in the companies. Other unresolved labour issues involve Pan Ocean’s non-implementation of annual salary increases for NUPENG members in the company from 2014 till date,” said Igwe Achese, president of NUPENG.
It was gathered that the Federal Government, through Chris Ngige, the minister of Labour and Employment, has summoned a tripartite meeting involving labour, representatives of the affected oil companies and government, to resolve the stand-off without a recourse to going on strike.
“The Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment is intervening. They have called us for a meeting on January 11 in Abuja. We wonder why the meeting is fixed same day we are starting the strike. Notwithstanding, what I can tell you further, is that if our demands are not met at the meeting, we would go ahead with the strike,” said Joseph Ogbebor, general secretary of NUPENG.
Igwe Achese, president of NUPENG, who announced the oil workers’ planned strike in December 2016, said it was the decision of the National Executive Council (NEC) of the union, which met in Port Harcourt, Rivers State. Achese said that the three-day warning strike was preparatory to a nation-wide strike if there was no fruitful intervention by the Federal Government.
Achese said the oil workers would resist any divestment by the multinationals that “does not carry the union along, especially in Oil Mining Leases (OML) 53 and 55 operated by Chevron and now OML 30,” adding that “whatever goodwill government has to encourage investors to come should not lead to job loses but job creation.”
Other issues alleged by the union for which it had earlier issued a 21-day ultimatum for the Federal Government’s intervention, include “the non-payment of terminal benefits to 298 contract staff terminated in Lagos and Port Harcourt by the Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC).
The proposed strike, unless averted, will result in fuel scarcity, as Petroleum Tanker Drivers (PTD), an arm of NUPENG, would be prevented from lifting petroleum products from depots for supply to retail outlets nationwide. Long queues are also likely to resurface at petrol filling stations across major cities, as the strike may create panic buying from anxious corporate and individual product consumers who will want to buy enough to last the period of the strike.