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Tackling unending industrial agitations in oil sector

By Collins Olayinka, Abuja
24 July 2018   |   3:31 am
One distinction between industrial agitation in the oil and gas sector and other segments of the Nigerian economy is the capacity of the sector to cripple the entire economy even before it is declared.  Indeed, with little ‘help’ from the media, the threat to embark on an industrial action by either the Nigeria Union of…

NUPENG’s National President, Williams Akporeha

One distinction between industrial agitation in the oil and gas sector and other segments of the Nigerian economy is the capacity of the sector to cripple the entire economy even before it is declared. 

Indeed, with little ‘help’ from the media, the threat to embark on an industrial action by either the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and its Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association (PENGASSAN) counterpart is immediately announced to Nigerians by gradual build up of queues at the filling stations across the country. 

Threat to fuel supply is one development that reverberates in the Stock market and other monetary and financial institutions who respond to instability in the sector immediately.

Incidentally, it is the same sector that does not have identifiable platform that defines the standards upon which workers are engaged. 

Obviously frustrated by the inability of the Federal Government of Nigeria to call oil companies to order, NUPENG was left with no choice other than drag Nigeria to the International Labour Organisation (ILO) committee on application of standards at the just concluded International Labour Conference (ILC) in Geneva, Switzerland.

In his report to the committee, the President of NUPENG, Williams Akporeha lamented that the status of NUPENG as a trade union organisation in terms of membership, financial capacity and ability to adequately organize and represent Nigerian oil and gas workers has been adversely affected by repressive anti labour/union activities of multinational oil companies.

He noted that the struggle against workers exploitation is almost three decades old, and it has been a herculean task, membership of the union has been seriously depleted, indecent work entrenched resulting into upsurge in crime and social dislocations and defiant behaviours.

He alleged that the International Oil Companies (IOCs) engaged in refusal to allow unionization of contract and service contracts workers; fragmentation of contracts into thousands to frustrate the efforts of the union in organizing precarious workers; force workers to sign pre-engagement non membership of union, and this makes precarious workers dread associating with the union; treating labour relations issues with contempt and disdain to the extent of refusing implementation on rulings of Industrial Arbitration Panels whenever it goes against the company; pay low wages; promote prevalence of practice of casual/contract employment policy; denial of collective bargaining power or refuse to implement collectively bargained agreements and elopement of contract workers severance benefits by contactors of the IOCs.

Akporeha submitted that the repressive anti-labour activities of the multinational oil and gas companies generally accentuated the social upheavals in the Niger Delta region, revolts in the form of organized attacks on installations, hostage taking and community insurgence in most parts of the country where there is mass unemployment and under-employment.

Also, after returning to Nigeria, both unions also met under the auspices of NUPENGASSAN in their continued efforts at avoiding a breakdown of industrial peace in the oil and gas sector. 

The two oil and gas unions said they would no longer be able to guarantee industrial peace if the government fail to address the apparent anti-labour posture and increasing impunities of the IOCs and their indigenous counterparts. 

The unions condemned the increasing impunities and anti labour tendencies of most indigenous and multinational oil companies in the oil and gas industry operating in the country.

Speaking after the meeting, President of PENGASSAN and Chairman of NUPENGASSAN, Olabode Johnson regretted that the situation was compounded by the inability of the Federal Government to frontally address the situation because the ministry saddled with that task is handicapped and lacked understanding of the situation.

Olabode said: “The situation was compounded by the fact that the Federal Ministry of Labour and Employment that is supposed to be the watchdog in the areas of compliance with extant labour laws is unfortunately handicapped because of poor understanding of the contract processing and workings in the oil and gas industry.”

The NUPENGASSAN chairman added: “The Council noted that many of the cases referred to the ministry are not properly and adequately handled, thus leaving the workers and the union frustrated.”

For Johnson, the lasting solution is for government and other stakeholders to raise a platform to address all the thorny issues before it snowballed into unimaginable labour crises. 

He said: “The Council in Session demands that a special mediation unit comprising experts from NNPC Human Resources, NAPIMS and other relevant units be set up to apprehend industrial relations/labour disputes and treat them with despatch before escalating to level of any form of Industrial actions.”

He observed that while it was inevitable to keep contract staffing out of the oil and gas system, he called on the government and industry agencies to help the industry reverse back to 5 + 1 for the labour contract in the industry. 

According to him: “The Council in Session believes that if this is done, contract workers will have some sense of job security and stability. This will definitely rekindle new sense of national pride and patriotism.

“We are worried by the attitudes of those who are desperately looking for contracts, who have forced the Government to keep splitting contracts and reducing contracts duration so as to accommodate more Contractors at the expense of workers.”

But going by the utterances of the Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige, the Federal Government may have found the necessary political will to deal with the issues.  

He hinted that the Federal Government might be forced to withdraw the license of labour contractors that engage in anti-labour practices. 

He disclosed this when hosting the newly elected members of the National Administrative Council (NAC) of NUPENG in Abuja. 

He stated that the Ministry is working on reforming the process of granting and renewing recruiters license to labour contractors with the aim of ensuring adherence to expatriate quotas and eschew unfair labour practices. 

While waving aside the insinuation that the ministry may have been overwhelmed by the IOCs’ influence within government circle, Ngige insisted that the ministry is now poised to redress the situation, saying the sanction against contractors that flout the law is in consonance with the Executive Order of the present government to ensure that jobs that are reserved for the local are not given to expatriates as well as protect indigenous products over foreign products.

He added that on the part of the Ministry efforts are in place to close up identified gaps in the operational guideline and labour laws in the oil and gas sector. 

His explanation: “In 2016 despite the shortfall in the oil revenue, the Federal Government brought both the International Oil Companies and the workers together to agree and fashioned out ways to ensure that there is no job loss.

This is something to cheer because all parties agreed and we were able to save jobs in the oil and gas sector.

We were never happy when people lose their job because the pressure will always come back to the government.

Today oil prices have picked up and activities have commenced so we expect new jobs to be created in the oil and gas sector.”