Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Iraqi Oil Workers to Strike Over Privatisation Law

Iraq’s largest oil workers’ trade union will strike this Thursday, inprotest at the controversial oil law currently being considered by the Iraqi parliament. The move threatens to stop all exports from the oil-rich country.The oil law proposes giving multinational companies the primary role indeveloping Iraq’s huge untapped oilfields, under contracts lasting up to30 years.

Oil production in Iraq, like in most of the Middle East, hasbeen in the public sector since the 1970s.The Union, representing 26,000 oil workers, has held three previous strikes since 2003, each time stopping exports, for up to two days at atime.

The announcement of the strike has spurred negotiations with the Ministry of Oil, which are ongoing. Imad Abdul-Hussain, Federation Deputy Chair of the IFOU said: "The central government must be in total ownership and complete control of production and the export of oil". He warned against the controversial Production Sharing Agreements favoured by foreign companies, saying other forms of co-operation with foreign companies would be acceptable but not at the level of control and profiteering indicated in thecurrent Oil Law.

Federation President Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi said: ‘The oil law does not represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people. It will let the foreign oil companies into the oil sector and enact privatisation under so called production sharing agreements. The federation calls for not passing the oil law, because it does not serve the interests of the Iraqi people."

The Union is not alone in its’ condemnation of the current oil law. Opponents of the law also include all of Iraq’s other trade unions, a number of political parties, and a group of over 60 senior Iraqi oil experts. Hassan Jumaa went on to say: "The federation calls on all unions in the world to support our demands and to put pressure on governments and the oil companies not to enter the Iraqi oil fields."

Union members are also demanding an improved salary structure and a distribution of land for building homes. Ewa Jasiewicz of Naftana – the UK Support Committee for the IFOU said:‘The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions, like any union, has the right toengage in collective bargaining over issues important to their members. In this case, the issue of who controls Iraq’s oil and the economic future of the country is an issue which is important to all Iraqis. The Union has repeatedly called for civil society inclusion in the drafting of the oil law and has been ignored. They are now asserting their right to have a voice in the decision making process affecting their industry and Iraq’s economic future – their courage and commitment to democracy should be supported’.

Instead of the union’s participation being welcomed, leaders have been accused of jeopardizing security and threatened with legal action. Farouq Al-Asadi, the Federation's Secretary said: ‘The Oil Minister chooses to forget that the right to strike is guaranteed by the constitution - we have chosen the legal path’. Union leaders have already received a number of death threats which they are taking seriously.

"As soon as the federation called for the strike,many of our members and officials were physically threatened by parties active in the political process, with the aim of thwarting the strike and undermining the message of the strike organisers."

Hassan Jumaa Awad Al Assadi, President of the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions
00964 7801 001 196 or 00964 7804 114 619

Sami Ramadani, lecturer and writer and member of Naftana – UK SupportCommittee for the IFOU 0044 7863 138 748

Ewa Jasiewicz, Naftana UK Support Group for the IFOU and Hands Off IraqiOil Campaign 0044 7749 421 576

The IFOU is an independent trade union representing workers across 4 southern provinces in Iraq: Misan, Dhi Qar, Basra and Mauthanna in nine oil and gas related companies.The Union has been organizing since April 2003 and has stopped oil exports and production over wages and workers rights in the past. It has also held protests against oil smuggling, former regime bosses and what the union sees as the deliberate neglect and degradation of the industryin order to justify private investment.

Union members have carried out reconstruction work on drilling rigs,port equipment, pipelines and refineries since the invasion with minimal, mostly local resources.The Union is not linked to any political party in Iraq but has memberswhich belong to various parties.The Union enjoys the support of trade unions and civil society organizations around the world including the International Confederationof Energy, Mining and General Workers Union (ICEM), the AFL-CIO in the US, and the Trade Unions Congress (TUC) in the UK including the NUJ and TGWU. The union is partnered with UK development charity War on Want, the 3 milllion strong US Labor Against War in the USA, and Italian NGOUn Ponte Per.


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