Nigerian oil workers are going ahead with their planned strike today( Thursday), despite reports that the government had commenced talks with their leaders, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) has said.
The acting general secretary of PENGASSAN, Lumumba Okugbawa, told journalists on Thursday morning that they were not aware of any negotiations between any arm of the association and the government on any of their demands.
“It is not true there are on-going negotiations between PENGASSAN and government. Apart from the inconclusive negotiation on June 23, which was rescheduled to June 30, only to be put off indefinitely with no further appointment, we are not aware of any other negotiation with government,” Mr. Okugbawa said.
He said reports of negotiations with the oil workers was part of the government’s characteristic way of causing confusion whenever a strike notice is issued.
“If government was sincere, why would it always wait till after the strike had already started before coming out in the media to talk about non-existing negotiations?” he asked.
Mr. Okugbawa said the Federal Ministry of Labour had sent an email to the leadership of PENGASSAN late on Wednesday inviting them to a meeting scheduled for Thursday (today) when the strike was planned to commence.
He said the ministry later sent a text message to reschedule the meeting for Friday, saying the previous schedule was not convenient, in view of the extended public holiday.
But, Mr. Okugbawa said the association had since replied the government that the Friday schedule was equally not convenient, as it could not get all its top executives from across the country where they were deployed to monitor the beginning of the strike.
“In any case, the decision to embark on the strike was taken by the National Executive Council of the Association. It is not possible to stop the commencement of the strike now for a meeting with government on Friday. As far as PENGASSAN is concerned, the strike has commenced as planned. The strike can only be suspended or called off by no other arm, but NEC. For now getting all its members to return for a meeting is foing to be difficult,” he said.
Although he did not confirm any new date the association would find convenient, Mr. Okugbawa said it would not be earlier than next Tuesday.
On Monday, PENGASSAN had declared its preparedsness for another nationwide strike over “unresolved issues” affecting the smooth operation of the oil and gas industry.
Mr. Okugbawa said on Tuesday that some of the association’s demands bordered on issues that would strenghten the oil and gas industry and the country’s economy.
They include backlog of cash call arrears dating back to 2014, which he said had greatly hampered the ability of the joint venture partners with the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) to discharge their obligations both to the industry and their workers.
Other issues include the poor state of the country’s refineries and the massive waste of resources on turn around maintenance (TAM); continued importation of petroleum products; on-going industry reforms and NNPC restructuring as well as the politicisation of the passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB).