Oil output is halted in Gabon as strikes sets in

LIBREVILLE, April 2, 2011 (AFP) – Almost the entire oil production of Gabon, sub-Sahara’s fourth largest producer, was halted Saturday on the second day of a strike against the employment of foreigners in the national petroleum firm. Petrol pumps ran dry in the capital city Libreville while no oil supplies emerged from the African nation’s sole refinery Sogara at Port-Gentil, its oil capital, due to the strike called by the The National Organisation of Petroleum Employees (ONEP). 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. “Gamba and Port-Lopez are shut down. These are the only two exit points for oil leaving the country. All the oil firms go through one of these two terminals,” said ONEP spokesman Arnauld Engandji.

Anglo Dutch energy giant Shell would also be completely stopping production on Saturday, a spokesman told AFP, saying: “We started operations to halt production on Friday with a view to a complete stoppage on Saturday. “These are complicated procedures especially if one wants to avoid problems when production is resumed,” he said. On Friday, a source at French oil firm Total said almost the entire production of the firm had been halted. Total and Shell are the main oil players 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. “There is nothing, no petrol, no diesel,” said Terence a petrol pump attendant in Libreville’s Renovation quarter. 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,” ONEP deputy general secretary Hans 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.

In April 2010, ONEP laucnhed an “unlimited strike”, which in fact lasted for only two days after the government promised to negotiate. On Saturday, the government said in a statement published in the media that it would start meetings and then decide on “concrete action” following the union complaints.  But Landry Ivala dismissed this, saying: “These are just texts. The texts have to be applied.”

 

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