Nigerian Unions Say Delays Could Result in Fresh Strikes

Senior Shell employees warned earlier this week that a delay by the company in resolving a dispute over its corporate restructuring could lead to fresh strikes. White-collar workers union the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, ended a 16-day strike September 11th called to protest the company's restructuring. Emily Onyia, chairperson of Pengassan at Shell in Port Harcourt, said that workers "are still agitating. In fact, they don't even see why we suspended the strike."

The union and the company are to meet for further talks September 30th at which the issue of compulsory early retirement, the influx of expatriates into Shell's Nigeria operations, and the company's regionalization policy will be discussed.

Shell is in the midst of a worldwide reorganization of its exploration and production businesses, which will entail the formation of five regional units, including Africa. The launch of the units is scheduled for January 1, 2004.

Pengassan said in a statement late Monday "that any attempt to further prolong deliberation and resolution of these issues will not be tolerated, and will immediately lead to escalation of the action." The union's patience, it added, "is fast running out."

Pengassan's Onyia, speaking from Shell's administrative office in Port Harcourt, said the oil major had continued to implement the restructuring despite the agreement to suspend the strike. "We expected them (Shell) to slow down on the implementation of the program after the agreement, but they are still going ahead with the plan," she said.

Shell had recently employed 140 new expatriate contract workers for key projects in Nigeria, she said. In addition, there are reports, she added, of a list being compiled by company management of which workers should be sacked.

In its statement, Pengassan opposed plans by Shell to headquarter its new Africa exploration and production unit at the Hague in the Netherlands. Besides the loss of jobs by Nigerians, Pengassan said the policy would also stunt the career prospects of Nigerians in the company.

Despite the statement, Pengassan's Onyia said a meeting any time before September 30th would still take place.