Nigerian Govt, National Oil Co Bid to Avert Strike

LAGOS Sep 5, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

In separate moves, Nigeria's Ministry of Labor and Productivity, and state-run Nigerian National Petroleum Corp. are reaching out to the country's two oil unions in a bid to avert their planned strike action, a source close to the unions said.

The Ministry has requested a meeting Thursday with leaders of the unions, while NNPC has planned another meeting for Friday, the source told Dow Jones Newswires Tuesday.

T "All these are informal talks for now, until the unions get letters," the source said.

The Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, and the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, or Nupeng, Wednesday threatened to embark on a three-day warning strike Sept.13 over the rising insecurity in the Niger Delta.

The unions said they would withdraw their members from all oil and gas operations in the Delta, including production and export platforms, citing the danger posed to their members' safety by kidnappers.

In a communique at the end of their joint meeting, they condemned "the heightening and unabating spate of abduction, hostage taking and violent attacks in the Niger Delta by restive youths under the banner of continued deprivation and neglects of the area by successive government(s)."

Several oil workers, most of them foreigners, have been taken hostage - but later released - by militants in the Niger Delta, usually after the payment of a ransom demanded by the kidnappers. However, two Nigerian oil workers, kidnapped last month, died while still in captivity.

Attacks by Niger Delta militants have cut Nigeria's oil output by about 600,000 barrels a day.

The source said that the chances of the meetings averting the Sept. 13 strike were slim.

"As far as the unions were concerned, these are not meetings based on Sept. 13, because the unions are going on strike. The only thing they (the talks) will do is to prevent what will follow the strike," he said.

Pengassan and Nupeng said that if the government, after the warning strike, failed to address the security problem in the Niger Delta, they "will have no other option but to withdraw their services indefinitely."

The unions didn't give a timeframe within which the government must respond to their demands before they would embark on the indefinite strike.

When contacted, Levi Ajuonuma, spokesman for NNPC, neither confirmed nor denied the planned meeting, but said he would speak to Dow Jones Newswires later Tuesday on the issue.

Since the announcement of the strike, there have been moves by the government to douse tensions in the Niger Delta.

On Thursday, a government source told Dow Jones Newswires that Nigerian Oil Minister Edmund Daukoru had delayed a trip to Iran in order to hold a meeting with heads of multinational oil companies on the situation, and separately visited the Niger Delta as part of the government's troubleshooting effort.

The planned meetings by the Ministry of Labor and NNPC are however the first known move by the government to reach out to the oil unions since their announcement.

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