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Building union power in oil and gas in the MENA region

Union representatives from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, Palestine, Iraq, Tunisia, Yemen came together to strengthen cooperation in a meeting supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES).

Existing and new hydrocarbon assets in the region have the potential to bring economic development and great prosperity to people. To benefit, the region needs a stable political environment. Revenues need to be earned in a just way and be fairly distributed.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan acknowledged the instability in the region, and the conflict in Syria, Yemen and Palestine. He said:

“In this environment, the most useful thing we can do is to focus on building the strength of unions. Powerful, networked unions can ensure that the region’s resource wealth is used to improve the lives of ordinary people. This will remove many of the causes of unrest and conflict.”

IndustriALL energy director Diana Junquera Curiel prepared a detailed overview of the sector globally, covering the financial position of the major players, the state of union organizing and the relationships with companies. She said that women need to be much better represented in unions in the region.

industriALL regional manager Ahmed Kamel spoke about the growth of the union network in the region, and the importance of fighting against precarious work. The meeting focused on key campaigns and union disputes in the region, including the campaign against precarious work in Shell.

Mellal Raouf of SNATEGS in Algeria spoke about the ongoing persecution of independent unions. He said that the ongoing repression is likely to result in a workers’ uprising.

Anees Alhetari from DNO Yemen Union and Espen Løken of Industri Energi in Norway addressed the ongoing case against the DNO oil company, that abandoned its Yemeni workforce when war broke out. DNO is refusing to comply with a court ruling against it. Industri Energi has supported the Yemeni union in its campaign.

Abdelhak Loukili spoke about the ongoing crisis with the bankruptcy of the Samir refinery in Morocco.

A major focus of the meeting was the importance of social dialogue with companies. IndustriALL has global framework agreements with a number of sector employers, and these have been the most effective mechanism for resolving disputes. Two employers were represented at the meeting.

General manager for Total Lebanon, Philippe Amblard, and Dieter Keller from the IG BCE union in Germany and the Total European Works Council, spoke to the meeting about the effectiveness of dialogue. Participants were able to raise issues at Total facilities in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt and Yemen, which Amblard pledged to address.

Davide Calabro of the industrial relations department of ENI and Marcellino Tufo of the Global Works Council joined the meeting by video conference. Participants from Iraq raised health and safety, environmental and workers’ rights issues, which the company committed to address.

Hassan Juma explained how Iraqi oil  unions united under one umbrella to counter the power of multinational companies and their unfair licensing contracts. He urged other unions in the region to do the same.

Kemal Özkan said:

“We want people to benefit from the wealth of the region. We want a sustainable economy and a stable society. Building union power in the oil and gas sectors is critically important to achieve this.”


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