By Sebastine Obasi
Indications have emerged that thousands of jobs may soon be lost in Nigeria’s oil industry following the picketing of some service companies by the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, PENGASSAN, over alleged refusal of the firms to allow workers to unionise.
Leaders of umbrella Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria, PETAN, who met in Lagos over a spate of widespread picketing on the group’s members are said to be currently exploring potent strategies to permanently deal with labour issues across the service segment of the petroleum industry.
Chairman of PETAN, Mr. Bank-Antony Okoroafor, who spoke on the outcome of the meeting, said PENGASSAN has refused to play the role of patriotic partners in the pan-industry effort to sustain the Nigeria Content Development programme in the face of the prevailing downturn in the industry.
“It is difficult times for the oil firms, not just the service firms but also oil firms that are facing the headwinds in the oil market. Some of them are finding it difficult to pay for jobs delivered by service firms. So, they owe us. We don’t go to war with them because we know what the industry is passing through.
“Most of the contracting firms are owed. So, they are justifiably in debt, and the banks are chasing them. And you go and shut them down because you want to unionise. That is insensitivity! Now, if these fledgling firms go down completely where will your members work? The biggest losers would be the workers PENGASSAN pretends to be fighting for,” Mr.Okoroafor pointed out.
He made it clear that apart from worsening the situation in the industry, picketing could be fatal on small fledgling companies.
In talking to members of his group, Mr.Okoroafor advised them to create internal communications channels that would enable workers at all levels understand the business dynamics and state of affairs in the industry at all times.
In its reaction, PENGASSAIN in a statement said it “deplores anti-union posture by indigenous companies and marginal field operators, and therefore resolved to resist any management that infringes on the workers’ Rights to Freedom of Association and Lawful Assembly.”
It further stated that “PENGASSAN condemned the excessive use of force by security agencies against our unarmed members during picketing and other legitimate industrial actions, calling on the Army and the Police to call their men and officers to order and refrain from harassing innocent and unarmed workers, especially PENGASSAN members.”
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr.IbeKachikwu, who had earlier decried the regular labour crisis in the industry as very disruptive to government’s economic growth polices also pointed out that the current crisis works against one of the key Nigerian Content policy targets to generate employment for thousands of the citizenry.