- Nigerian trade unions organising workers in the oil sector early today called off an ongoing three-day strike with immediate effect. Unions had given in to appeals by the government, which was to discuss the oil workers' security concerns at highest levels, but warned that the strike could be renewed at any moment.
The strike had been called by the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) on Wednesday, after negotiations with Nigeria's federal government had failed on Monday. The oil workers protested the escalation of violence and lack of security in the sector, especially since rebel groups in the Niger Delta region started targeting oil workers.
Since the strike started on Wednesday, Nigeria's federal Labour Minister Hassan Lawal has tried to engage in negotiations with NUPENG and PENGASSAN leaders. Urgent appeals from the federal government and oil companies to restart negotiations yesterday finally showed results.
It remains uncertain what the Nigerian government has promised the oil workers' trade unions. Unions had called for the establishment of a committee led by Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo that was to look into the security concerns of the country's oil workers.
President Obasanjo has not made official statements on the negotiations with the oil workers, but in a meeting with traditional leaders from impoverished Bayelsa State - located in the Niger Delta and a leading oil producer - said he was optimistic "that criminal activities including bunkering and hostage taking in the Niger Delta can be stopped." The President plans to visit Bayelsa next month.
The calling off of the oil strike came at a moment when unions had demonstrated their strength. The strikers had been able to cut domestic supplies of refined oil products, effectively threatening to paralyse Nigeria. The workers were also riding on a wave of public sympathy for their cause.
Union leaders therefore claimed the strike had been successful, as the government for the first time was showing willingness to negotiate on oil security issues. Union leaders had assured a mandate to call for strike action again, without consulting with members, if talks with the government failed to provide results.
The threatening security situation for oil workers has its basis in a social revolt in the impoverished and polluted Niger Delta oil producing region. Rebel groups based in the region demand larger parts of the nation's enormous oil revenues be directed to the underdeveloped main production areas, especially Delta states such as Bayelsa.
The rebels have focused on interrupting oil pipelines but also on threatening oil workers onshore and offshore. A large number of recent kidnappings of Nigerian and foreign oil workers have only been solved by the paying of ransom money, encouraging further kidnappings. The insecurity is estimated at having reduced Nigeria's oil production by around one third, or 850,000 barrel a day.
The latest attacks on Nigerian oil workers are however not seen in connection with the Delta rebels. Two workers have been killed in armed attacks during the last week, as the result of "criminal activities," according to the US oil company Chevron.
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