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Nigerian Oil Workers Strike

Action comes as threat of Iraq war and strife in Venezuela have pushed prices to two-year highs.

February 16, 2003|From Associated Press

LAGOS, Nigeria — Nigerian oil workers on Saturday launched an indefinite strike that could shut down supplies of crude from one of the world's largest oil exporters.

The strike over pay and working conditions comes as the threat of war in Iraq and a prolonged strike in Venezuela have pushed oil prices to two-year highs. Half of Nigerian exports go to the United States.

The action was launched by workers of the Department of Petroleum Resources, a key government unit overseeing the operations of multinational oil companies such as ExxonMobil, ChevronTexaco, Royal Dutch/Shell and TotalFinaElf. It is backed by the powerful Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Assn. of Nigeria.

The strike aims to paralyze the loading of crude oil at export terminals, but the petroleum and gas association is threatening to shut down operations across the industry if the government does not meet its demands by the middle of the week.

"We started shutting down today," association spokesman Femi Familoni said, but added the effect would probably not be felt until Monday.

A Shell spokesman said the company was taking steps to minimize the impact of the strike. He declined to elaborate. Officials at other companies could not immediately be reached for comment.

Strikers are demanding more than a year's worth of back pay, including unpaid overtime, expenses and travel allowances. They are also demanding greater autonomy and better financing for the department, which they say is crippled by inefficient government bureaucracy.

"As things stand, most of the time we rely on ... oil companies to perform our duties, which is not how it should be," Familoni said.

President Olusegun Obasanjo's energy advisor, Rilwanu Lukman, has offered to meet with the strikers Feb. 25, according to union officials. But strikers rejected the proposal, saying it did not reflect the urgency of their demands.

Government officials could not immediately be reached for comment. The government can ill afford a prolonged strike as it seeks to tackle poverty and repair infrastructure left to decay during decades of corrupt rule.

Nigeria produces close to 2 million barrels of oil a day, more than 95% of which is pumped by joint ventures between the government and major oil companies.

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