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THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: Nigeria Oil Union Threatens Strike In S Oil Region ( Posted 21 Jan 05




Nigeria (AP)--Nigerian oil workers threatened to launch a strike in a key southern oil-producing region, saying Thursday they would only call off the threat if two expatriate oil executives blamed for cutting worker benefits leave the country.


The threatened strike in and around the Niger delta hub of Port Harcourt would start Monday and could cut off over 500,000 barrels a day of Nigeria's oil output and shut down one of the country's four oil refineries.


Oil unions blame the two top executives of Malaysian-owned oil drilling firm Wasco for removing benefits from more than 50 workers last year.


A branch of Nigeria's white-collar oil union, Pengassan, issued the ultimatum saying the two Wasco executives must leave Nigeria by Sunday night for the strike to be averted, local Pengassan chairman Chris Ochonogor said by telephone from Port Harcourt.


Pengassan President Brown Ogbeifun said the strike could spread nationally and other unions could join in. Bassey Harry of the national blue-collar oil union Nupeng said his union would join out of solidarity.


Workers at Wasco have been on strike since Monday. Anger has been brewing among employees at the company since last year, when Wasco took 50 workers off regular contracts and employed them as casual labor.


Ochonogor said the two Wasco executives were Mike Walker, the U.S. head of the firm, and his deputy, a Scotsman he identified as M. Gordon.


Nigerian labor unions frequently issue strike threats, but it is rare that they actual dent the country's 2.5 million b/d oil output. Oil executives say they have a series of emergency measures - including hiring casual manual labor - to allow them to continue operating during strikes.


Nigeria is Africa's largest oil exporter and the fifth largest supplier of crude to the U.S.


Armed militants, protesters and oil thieves who tap into the country's pipelines pose the greatest real threats for oil majors such as the Royal Dutch/Shell Group of Cos. (RD, SC) and ChevronTexaco Corp. (CVX)


Over 100,000 b/d is still cut off from an ethnic revolt in the Niger delta two years ago, which shut down 40% of Nigeria's oil output at the time. Shell said earlier this week that it was losing 44,000 b/d from a leak in a major delta pipeline, which it said was punctured by vandals.

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