PENGASSAN Says Shell is Avoiding Negotiations

PENGASSAN said Shell has avoided talks to try and end a protracted lockout at the firm's local offices in Nigeria. The white-collar union which proposed the talks on Friday in a last ditch effort to avert a potentially crippling strike, said it has not received any response from Shell.

Company officials said the lockout, now in its ninth day, had not disrupted exports and production, but had hit day-to-day operations at its offices in Lagos, Warri and Port Harcourt.

PENGASSAN, a powerful union whose members play a key role at export terminals, had threatened to withdraw from Shell facilities if its fears over a planned company restructuring which it fears would hit jobs, were not assuaged by Monday.

"Shell management has not given the go ahead for the meeting, we are still waiting to hear from them," PENGASSAN deputy National President Babatunde Ogun said. "I don't think we can still hold a meeting today, we have given them until tomorrow, after which we will consider other options," he said.

A Shell spokesman declined to comment on the botched talks, but said the firm was holding consultations to restore normalcy. "Consultations have continued to try and restore normalcy in the company's operations," he said, declining to give details. Talks between Shell and the local branch of PENGASSAN had collapsed on Thursday after union leaders said management had failed to address their fears.

Nigeria's junior oil workers' union NUPENG said it would join PENGASSAN in solidarity if it embarked on a strike.

PENGASSAN began the action on August 27, to protest against a planned company restructuring known as Exploration and Production Globalization (EPG), which union leaders fear would lead to the marginalization of Nigerians. Shell said in a statement the union's fears were being addressed and that no decision had yet been taken on Nigeria in the global restructuring program. "The specific concerns raised by staff are being addressed," the statement said. "No review or decision has yet been made of the ultimate structure of the EP Africa organization after globalization." "As a result, all options are open in regards to the EPG leadership teams' ultimate location. All possibilities will be looked at, including Nigeria," it added.

The union's several demands include locating Shell headquarters in Nigeria, appointing more of its 5,000 Nigerian employees to top jobs, repatriating all non-technical expatriates and halting further recruitment of foreigners by the local unit.