Precarious Work Destroying Workers’ Lives in Nigerian Oil & Gas Industry

Precarious work destroying workers’ lives in Nigerian oil and gas industry Contract work and casualization of the oil and gas industry is having a dire impact on trade unions and the lives of workers in Nigeria, according to IndustriALL Global Union’s affiliates in African’s largest oil producing country.

Some 25 representatives from IndustriALL affiliates, the National Union of Petroleum & Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) and the Petroleum & Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) met in the southern city of Port Harcourt for an oil and gas workshop on 19 and 20 September 2018.

Testimonials from members of NUPENG, which represents blue-collar workers, and PENGASSAN, which represents white collar workers, revealed the extent to which precarious work in the sector is undermining unions and leading to a vicious cycle of poverty.

Participants worked across a range of companies including: Total, Shell, Indorama, the Nigerian Agip Oil Company, Plant Geria and Halliburton. All NUPENG’s members are contract workers, while PENGASSAN reported that jobs that were once permanent are now being casualized, even though the work remains the same. Participants reported that in some cases workers are made redundant and then immediately being rehired for the same job with no medical insurance, life insurance or redundancy benefits.

The gulf between working conditions experienced by permanent staff and contract workers in the industry is huge, said participants and unions agreed that more should be done to close the gap. A contract worker could earn around US$280 a month for doing the same job as a permanent worker earning around US$2,000, or even more.

Furthermore, precarious work is being used by the oil companies to destroy unions. Contract workers often find they are unlikely to get rehired once they join a union, while white-collar workers find do not have the same access to training or promotion opportunities if they are union members.

Unions also said Nigerian workers do not have the same training opportunities as foreign workers, and that expatriates are being used to do jobs that could easily be done by Nigerian workers. Stagnant wages are another major problem, with NUPENG saying that wages have not increased since 2014, and in some cases longer.

Health and safety is an ongoing issue and unions agreed that workers need to be better educated about the rights, especially when it came to health and safety.  Industry 4.0 is affecting the industry – an accountant from PENGASSAN said that part of his role had been taken over by a robot at his company.

Automation is also being used to do jobs in the lubricant sector, such as labelling and filling cans. Vassey Lartson, a Shell Lab Technician and union representative, who attended the workshop on behalf of the United Steelworkers (USA), told participants he was shocked by the wage disparity between Shell workers in the USA and those in Nigeria. Vassey joined a visit to meet workers at a Shell facility in Port Harcourt the day before the workshop, which included a visit to workers’ impoverished homes.

The meeting also included a reportfrom Charles Egwabor, a lawyer from Port Harcourt, who said high unemployment in Nigeria made it easier to casualize the labour market, which in turn further increases poverty in the country.

IndustriALL’s director for energy, Diana Junquera Curiel, said: “This workshop has been truly valuable in hearing the problems and challenges facing unions in Nigeria first-hand. We commend our affiliates in their battle to fight precarious work as well as the other challenges in the industry, and we stand by to support them as they campaign for decent work in the oil and gas sector.”

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