By Ejiofor Alike
The labour dispute between the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) and the oil service firms has worsened despite efforts by Petroleum Technology Association of Nigeria (PETAN) to find solutions to the picketing of oil firms over their alleged refusal to allow workers to unionise.
THISDAY gathered that PETAN, which met in Lagos over a spate of widespread picketing on the group's members are exploring other options to resolve the dispute.
Chairman of PETAN, Mr. Bank-Anthony Okoroafor said with the worsening economic situation in the industry, picketing could be fatal on these indigenous companies
"It is difficult times for the oil firms, not just the service firms but also oil firms that are facing the headwinds in the oil market. Some of them are finding it difficult to pay for jobs delivered by service firms. So, they owe us. We don't go to war with them because we know what the industry is passing through. Most of the contracting firms are owed.
So, they are justifiably in debt, and the banks are chasing them. And you go and shut them down because you want to unionize. That is insensitivity! Now, if these fledgling firms go down completely where will your members work? The biggest losers would be the workers PENGASSAN pretends to be fighting for," Okoroafor said in a statement.
Okoroafor urged the oil firms to create internal communications channels that would enable workers at all levels understand the business dynamics and state of affairs in the industry at all times.
Minister of State for Petroleum Resources, Dr. Ibe Kachikwu, who had earlier decried the labour crisis in the industry, said the current crisis could hamper the Nigerian Content policy, which targets to generate employment for Nigerians.
According to him, picketing would also hinder ease of doing business driven by Vice President Yemi Osinbajo.
Kachikwu had also added that the service sector of the petroleum industry forms part of the key segments that underpin government's Economic Recovery and Growth Programme (ERGP).
It would be recalled that leaders of PENGASSAN have since last year embarked on relentless picketing of oil service companies in Port Harcourt, causing some of them to shut down, relocate from the country or suspend operations. Most of the oil companies under attack have lost several contracts, missed delivery times or defaulted in commitments to financial services providers as labour induced downtimes lingered.
PENGASSAN had decried what it described as "anti-union posture by indigenous companies and marginal field operators, and therefore resolved to resist any management that infringes on the workers' Rights to Freedom of Association and Lawful Assembly."
"The PENGASSAN condemned the excessive use of force by security agencies against our armless members during picketing and other legitimate industrial actions, calling on the Army and the Police to call men and officers to order and refrain from harassing innocent and armless workers, especially PENGASSAN members," the statement said.