The Times (UK): Shell fights unions as strike call hits Nigeria: “SHELL locked horns in a legal battle with its main Nigerian unions yesterday in a dispute that risks embroiling the oil multinational in growing labour unrest in the troubled African country.”: “Shell’s court action against the two unions… drew a fiery response from Adams Oshiomhole, the NLC leader, who labelled Shell “an enemy of the people” and said: “Shell does not have the muscle to control our people, even if it controls our political leaders.” (ShellNews.net)
By Carl Mortished, International Business Editor
November 02, 2004
SHELL locked horns in a legal battle with its main Nigerian unions yesterday in a dispute that risks embroiling the oil multinational in growing labour unrest in the troubled African country.
The Nigerian Labour Congress yesterday called a general strike for November 16 in protest against government fuel price increases. The call for action by Nigeria’s umbrella labour confederation coincided with Shell’s attempt to seek an injunction to restrain two oil industry unions in a separate dispute over job cuts at the oil company.
Shell’s court action against the two unions, Nupeng and Pengassan, drew a fiery response from Adams Oshiomhole, the NLC leader, who labelled Shell “an enemy of the people” and said: “Shell does not have the muscle to control our people, even if it controls our political leaders.”
The NLC’s strike call sent jitters through the oil market as traders weighed up the possibility of disruption to oil exports. Nigeria is Africa’s largest oil producer, pumping some 2.5 million barrels per day, and a leading supplier to US refineries, where its light, low-sulphur crude is highly prized.
While Nigeria virtually floats on oil, it still imports petrol and diesel fuel, which is then sold to the public at subsidised prices, a system of colossal waste that defies logic. Within Nigeria there are frequent allegations that fuel is being imported from foreign companies connected to former Nigerian leaders and politicians, a possible explanation for the lack of a domestic fuel production industry.
The present Government has invested some $700 million (Ł382 million) in Nigeria’s four state-own refineries, to little effect. Their assets looted and their pipelines periodically attacked by criminal gangs, Nigeria’s refineries can supply at capacity no more than 17 million of the country’s daily requirement of 30 million litres of fuel. Currently they are running well below capacity. One plant has been idle for four years while another, restarted amid much fanfare last spring, has ceased operations.
In an effort to promote investment in new oil refineries the Government raised the price of petrol and diesel by 20 per cent, provoking a public outcry and yesterday’s strike call.
Shell, which owns no refineries in Nigeria, said its legal action was unrelated to the general strike.
The oil company is attempting to push through a big restructuring of its Nigerian operations, shifting its corporate centre from Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, to Port Harcourt in the oil-producing Niger Delta. Unions fear that more than 1,000 jobs could be lost and launched a wildcat strike last month in protest. Shell responded yesterday by applying for a court order restraining the unions from further disruption, arguing that they were in breach of a collective agreement. A Federal Court judge deferred hearings until November 18.