In a union/management meeting we held with SHELL management in Port Harcourt on November 12, 2008, the head of employees’ relations made us to understand that they operate across 11 states that make up the oil producing states, in 4002 communities and with contracts that are more than 22,000 with both labour and service contractors.
If we take it for instance that each contractor employs only three persons, which is not the case, you can imagine the number of employees that will be involved and service contract workers in SHELL operationsâ€ Those were the words of the Deputy General Secretary of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), Comrade Aberare Isaac, in an interview with Sweet Crude’sÂ Correspondent, Victor Ahiuma-Young on the proliferation, of indecent employment policy especially causal, contract and service workers in the nation’s Petroleum industry which the unions equate with â€œslavery and slave labour and the inherent dangers and plight of those at the receiving end .
From NUPENG’s point of view, how prevalence is the issue of casualisation and other forms of indecent employment in the petroleum industry?
I can tell you that all the multi-national companies including indigenous ones have resorted to the use of casual and contract workers in the oil and gas industry. The practice keeps increasing by the day and the union too has been doing everything in its power to limit the abuse of these categories of workers. But our effort is not yielding the desired result. Indecent employment practice became more pronounced in this country towards the mid-80s as a result of downturn in oil exploration in the country and as a result of effect of globalisation.
The oil companies started downsizing their workforce and contracting out what the call activities that do not relate to their core business. As we speak, we are still at loggerhead as to what constitute the core activities of oil and industry because the business of oil and gas industry is the exploration and production, marketing and distribution.
So, as far as the union is concerned, everybody that is servicing that process is oil an worker. Be it those involved in servicing, drilling, marketing or transportation and every person directly or indirectly involved in rendering service towards the exploration, production and distribution of oil is oil worker. However, multi-national companies have said some aspects of these activities are not their core business.
Therefore, they decided to out-source the catering service for instance, out-source the drilling activities and other peripheral jobs. Even now, they out-source the clerical activities to labour contractors or service providers. So, the rate with which this practice is going on has become very alarming. It is eating deep into the membership of the union.
Today, we have several companies in the industry that do not have junior staff in their employment. Example is Mobil producing which has phased out all junior staff in their employment. When the companies phase out junior workers, they re-surface as contract workers or service contract workers.
This was the situation when in December 1991 the union gave an ultimatum for a symbolic industrial action with a view to finding how best the situation could be addressed. The ultimatum resulted to a stakeholders’ meeting where government was represented by the Ministry of labour, the oil companies were represented by their Chief Executives and the union by the national leaders.
At the end, a communique was reached. In that communique, they recognized that the activities of the oil companies had become a big problem in the industry and that it needed to be addressed. The communique recorgnised that workers, whatever nomenclature, have the right to belong to the union and that the practice of casualisation be addressed by the companies on individual basis with a view to converting labour contract or contract casual workers into permanent staff especially those who have the relative qualifications. It was also stated in that communique that the proliferation of contractors should be streamlined because in a company, you can have a contractor that is providing just three employees and in some companies, you can as many as 100 contractors providing different services.
That communique recorgnised that such an amalgam of contractors should be streamlined to a great extent to facilitate an interface with the union. With that, we went into the industry and we organised workers. Those that were converted to full staff were converted and those that were not, were allowed to be unionsed and the union negotiated for their conditions of service.
But what we have noticed now is a growing habit by the companies at avoiding and preventing workers from joining the union. They were at first, out-sourcing and going for labour contract workers not withstanding that what they meant was to remove their hands from what they call non-core business. But we know that what they have at the back of their mind is how to maximise profit. So, then they saw the labour contract workers without conditions of service as more profitable to use than when they engage them fully as companies staff. Now that we are now organising the labour contract workers and negotiating conditions of service for the workers, the companies now resorted to further breaking the labour contract work into piecemeal and give out to contractors as service contract.
There is different between labour contract and service contract. The labour contract will have provision for personnel, while service contract do not. They will just ask the service contractor for example, to come and clean this office for us and we will pay say N10.00 for the job. The contractor will determine the material to use, the number of workers use and the amount to pay them. The companies are now resorting to converting some of these labour contract jobs which members have conditions of service and are unionsed to service contract without conditions of service and preventing them from being unionsed. However, we have mapped out strategies to confront or address this new trend.
Do you have statistics on these categories of workers?
Statistics are very difficult to come by. As a union, we set up a de-casualisation committee and directed our branches to furnish the national secretariat with statics on this indecent employment practice. Specifically, we asked to know how many are direct employees, how many are labour contractors and their workers or labour service contractors and their employees? I can tell you that this has not yielded tangible result because beside the fact that the companies keep on increasing the number by the day, they have also be frustrating the bid to get accurate figure. It is difficult to estimate the number of people involved. But one thing is clear, all the companies in the oil and gas industry are all involved in the use of labour contract and service contract workers.