PDVSA Employees and Government Meet At Negotiating Table

Employees of PDVSA returned to work on Friday as protesting company and government representatives worked to achieve a negotiated solution. Meeting at the negotiating table Friday were dissident representatives, PDVSA President Gaston Parra, and a mediating commission from Venezuela's National Assembly. Management restructuring proposals put forward by both sides have not brought them closer to a solution so far.

Dissident administrative staff of PDVSA staged a one-day work stoppage Thursday, but key sector operations of the world's No. 4 oil exporter, including crude production, refining, and exports, were not affected.

But as the protesting PDVSA managers and executives met with government officials to review compromise proposals, both sides still appeared far from resolving the dispute over the firm's contested new board of directors. "We have no problem sitting down at the negotiating table," Horacio Medina, spokesman for the dissident PDVSA employees, told a local television interview show Friday morning. But, "We are not going to take any step backward as far as the appointment of these five is concerned," Medina added.

The protesting workers argue that the appointment of five new members to PDVSA's board by President Hugo Chavez in February was based on their political loyalty to him and his self-proclaimed "revolution," rather than on professional merit. They are seeking the nomination of a new board. "There are 200 people above these five who could be doing their job," Medina said. While the dissidents have said they will increase their protests if their demands are not met, they have insisted they do not want an industry crippling strike that would wreak havoc on the economy of the oil-reliant nation. Chavez has threatened to use military troops to take over South America's largest oil company if the vital oil sector were shut down with a strike.

But oil supplies have not been hurt and the government has not needed to take such measures during the three weeks of protests. The protests have included four-hour administrative stoppages and an ongoing work slowdown in addition to Thursday's work stoppage.