Gabon oil union plans strike over expat labour row

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Gabon’s oil trade union ONEP is to launch a strike from November 6 to push demands for more local labour in a sector long dominated by expatriate workers, according to an ONEP document obtained by Reuters.

The move follows the break-down of months of talks with the government over the dispute, which triggered a four-day strike in April that shut down all of the central African state’s 240,000 barrels per day output.
“ONEP informs you of its intention to launch an open-ended general strike across the entire national territory from midnight, Sunday, November 6,” ONEP Secretary-General Guy Roger Aurat Reteno said in a letter addressed to the central African state’s prime minister, Paul Biyoghe Mba, Reuters reports.

The formal strike warning included a demand for “the re-examination of all current individual work permits for foreigners in every company in the oil sector”.

Producers in Gabon include majors Total and Royal Dutch Shell and oil service groups such as US-based Baker Hughes. Oil remains the top export earner of Gabon, one of the few sub-Saharan African countries to have a dollar-denominated bond.

No comment was immediately available from the government, Shell or Total.

In a written statement made to Reuters earlier this month on the nature of the dispute, the U.S. Embassy in Libreville described the matter as a “complicated, dynamic, and long-standing issue” and referred enquiries to the Gabon government.

ONEP has complained the government of President Ali Bongo Odimba is dragging its heels on a promise to enforce a quota limiting foreign workers to 10 percent of sector jobs and requiring all executive posts to be assigned to local Gabonese.

While legislation on the quotas has not been ratified, Bongo told his government last month to start implementing them anyway, an order that resulted in a wave of spot checks of expatriate workers’ papers in the oil hub Port-Gentil.

Around 5,000 Gabonese are employed in the oil sector. While no total figure for the number of expatriate workers was available, ONEP says over 2,800 foreign workers do not have the necessary papers and are therefore in an irregular situation.

The government announced last week that the spot checks had already unearthed 822 cases of foreign workers without correct papers, against 201 of whom legal action has been launched.

ONEP dismissed the move as insufficient and “for public consumption.”



Oil firms have been reluctant to speak in public about the dispute, but several argue in private that for years it was enough to have a business visa, and that any effort to obtain a local work permit foundered against a wall of local bureaucracy.