Gabon targets expat oil workers without papers


Gabon has launched a crackdown on expatriate oil workers who do not have work permits, spurred on by a powerful union that has given the government two weeks to safeguard more jobs for locals.

Employers in the sector are complaining of heavy-handed spot checks by police in the oil town of Port-Gentil.

The central African nation has long relied on foreign firms such as France’s Total and London-listed Royal Dutch Shell for much of its output, which peaked at around 370,000 barrels per day in the late 1990s and has been declining since.

While a law limiting foreign workers to 10 percent of the sector has yet to be ratified, President Ali Bongo Odimba this month urged his government to start implementing the local quota, as demanded by the powerful oil sector union ONEP.
“A checking mission is currently at work … in Port-Gentil and Gamba to hunt down and expel foreign workers in an irregular situation,” Henri-Jacob Oyono Ngomo, director of Gabon’s National Labour Office told Reuters.
“Acting on the instructions of the head of state, the government is simply ensuring the laws of Gabon are respected and honouring commitments made to social partners,” he said.
“There is no reason to see in this any xenophobic attitude on the part of authorities,” he added.

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.

Those expatriate workers argue that for years authorities did not require them to hold a work permit.
“It is not the checks we object to,” said Jean-Medard Madama of oil sector employers’ association UPEGA.
“It is the manner in which they are carried out — it is not right to demand that people produce their work permits in the streets. I can tell you that there is a great deal of concern in the sector about this,” he said.

Executives of several foreign oil firms based in Port-Gentil, 200 km (130 miles) south of the capital Libreville, said a number of their employees had been found to be without papers, briefly detained and threatened with expulsion.
“The checks started three or four days ago and are still going on,” said one executive, who like all others contacted declined to be named.
“It’s getting impossible to operate,” he said, adding that he was for now advising employees to stay at home.

However ONEP, which in April managed to shut down all of Gabon’s 240,000 barrels per day output during a four-day strike over the local hiring issue, said it was not convinced that the government was serious in boosting employment of Gabonese.
“We are giving the administration 15 days from Oct. 1 to resolve our problems once and for all,” ONEP Secretary-General Guy Roger Aurat Reteno told Reuters.
“After the 15 days are up, ONEP will make itself be heard.”