Iraqi Oil Workers Hold 24-Hour Strike - Oil Exports Shut Down
by Basra Oil Workers
July 22, 2005
15,000 Southern Oil Company workers from the General Union of Oil Employees - Iraq's largest independent union - began a 24-hour strike today, cutting most oil exports from the south of Iraq.
The strike is in support of demands made by Basra Governor Mohammad al-Waili - reflective of the wishes of the vast majority of Basra's residents - for a higher percentage of Southern oil revenue to be ploughed back into Basra's local economy. Basra's sewage system, electricity grid and medical services are still damaged and running at limited capacity. Despite being the capital of Iraq's oil reserves, the governorate is still struggling with entrenched poverty, malnutrition and an unemployment rate of 40%
The GUOE has been involved in an industrial dispute with the Southern Oil Company administration, Ministry of Oil and Government since June 20th when workers at the Basra Oil Refinery staged protest action and a lock out. The Union is demanding the removal of high ranking Baathist managers in the SOC and regime loyalists serving in the Ministry of Oil. The Union has given the Ministry of Oil until January 1st 2006 to comply. 15 in total are marked for removal.
The Union is also calling for an increase in workers wages. According to the Media and Culture Officer, Faraj Rabat Mizbhan, the basic starting pay for an Iraqi soldier is 700,000 ID (£270) per month whilst a senior oil worker with 30 years service is being paid on average 400,000 ID (£150). The Union is also calling for land allowances for workers - currently a provision limited to high ranking managers.
The Union is also calling for an increase in risk payments - currently at the same level as workers employed in offices. Risk payments are allocated to workers working in dangerous locations usually situated far into desert regions.
Union President Hassan Jumaa Awad al Assadi plus members of the executive committee have been involved in negotiations with the Ministry of Oil and Central Government over the past month. The Governor of Basra fully supports the demands of the GUOE.
Negotiations between the Ministry of Oil and Government and Union have resumed in order to avert a full general strike which would involve a further 8,000 union members included in Amara and Nassiriyeh provinces. Non Union workers have also been known to join GUOE strike action in the past. If the Iraqi government does not agree to the Union's demands, a general strike will ensue.