LIBREVILLE, April 1, 2011 (AFP) – Gabonese fuel supply sector workers went on strike Friday in a protest against the employment of foreign staff at the expense of locals, but there was no rush by motorists keen to stock petrol. The National Organisation of Petroleum Employees (ONEP), which has between 4,000 and 5,000 members, called the strike from Thursday at midnight to obtain new rules on the employment of foreigners, whom the union considers to be taking jobs from Gabonese nationals. At Libreville and in the oil capital of Port-Gentil in the west, supplies of fuel appeared to be normal and no long queues were seen outside service stations, but news of the strike had not yet reached many motorists.
In Port-Gentil, about 300 people demonstrated in the morning outside the headquarters of Total Gabon, where banners read, “Unlimited general strike against the abusive employment of foreign workers.” “The presence of (union) members outside the headquarters of Total Gabon is for a strike picket, in a strike that could be long,” the deputy secretary general of ONEP, Hans Landry Ivala, told AFP. “Things are taking off slowly,” added the union official, who said that it would be necessary to wait until “later in the day or tomorrow (Saturday)” to evaluate the rate of participation.
Asked how long it would be before there was no fuel in the pumps across the equatorial African country, Landry Ivala replied that “self-sufficiency lasts about 72 hours given normal consumption,” but this depended on the attitude of motorists and the urge to hoard fuel. “Customers are not talking about it particularly. We have no details (on the strike),” said Romain Loundou, who runs a service station in the centre of the capital. “The delivery (of fuel) should take place during the day, before 18:30, but for the moment, nobody has come, we will see,” said Naf, a pump attendant in Libreville.
The powerful ONEP union initially announced a strike to begin on March 27 at midnight, but after a week of negotiations with the government, it suspended its call while waiting for the cabinet to come out on Wednesday with a decree regulating the employment of foreign workers. The strike was called when no decree was forthcoming. “We hoped that the government would pass this decree, which is ready, but the government preferred to state that it was necessary to consult all the social partners,” Landry Ivala said. He added that the union wanted, “given equal competence… a preference for the employment of a Gabonese.”
After a decentralised cabinet meeting at Makokou in the northeast, President Ali Bongo Ondimba announced a series of measures including “broad consultations (aimed at) defining the conditions for welcoming foreign workers… promoting the employment of young Gabonese and halting the growth in unemployment.” Bongo also promised an audit of the petroleum supply sector. Oil is the main natural wealth in Gabon, which produces between 220,000 and 240,000 barrels per day. Officially, oil revenue accounts for “about 60 percent” of the nation’s budget. In April 2010, ONEP lauched an “unlimited strike”, which in fact lasted for only two days after the government promised to negotiate.
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