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Iraqi Oil Workers Preparing for Strike

Posted: 05/18/2007

By Hiba

The following is a radio report prepared by Iraqi correspondent Hiba Dawood for broadcast on Free Speech Radio this week. Ms. Dawood generously allowed us to post it on our website, which we do to give a sense of what is happening with oil workers in the Iraq oil fields, from which  oil is being pumped and shipped worldwide, including to the United States where it is being refined by ExxonMobil, BP, Chevron, Marathon, Shell and Valero.

What the major oil companies want is to not only buy oil from Iraq but to have extremely profitable rights to explore, drill, pump and ship oil under what will amount to their own terms if the pending U.S. designed Iraqi oil law is passed. The oil workers oppose this law. Here is Ms. Majeed's report.

Over ten oil companies, with roughly 23 thousand workers represented by The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), have been threatening Prime Minister Nori Al Maliki's government to strike if their demands aren't met soon.

Workers are asking for a pay increase, improved living conditions, and decent housing. Such demands were turned down by the government in the past.

ACCORDING To the Iraqi federation of Oil Unions, workers get a monthly salary of $100, have no health care and must commute long distance to work.

Hassan Jumaa is the head of The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU). He says that if the government ignores their demands they will strike, but added that no deadline has been set.

"This morning, we received an invitation letter from the prime minister to invite a delegation from the oil union workers that consists seven members headed by the president of the union, to meet with Mr. Nori Al Maliki and discuss with him the demands rose in our strike statement."

The union has had three other strikes since 2003 that all ended in government promises to meet workers' demands. But those promises were never honored. That again led workers to stop production and delayed oil exports for several days, leading to a loss of millions of dollars.

If the demands are not met by the government, this time it could mean that around 1.6 million barrels of crude oil a day, which is how much oil the southern oil fields can produce according to the Iraqi ministry of oil, will experience an indefinite delay in export.

When workers were not granted a visit to the oil ministry, they threatened to strike last Thursday, but a call from Maliki postponed the strike until today.

Jabir Khalifa is the oil committee member of the parliament, and from the Fadhila party. He says that the demands are legal and relatively easy to meet.

"We met with the oil workers several months ago when they wanted to hold a strike last summer, and we took their demands to the ministry of oil but it seems that the minister isn't taking these demands seriously into consideration, that is why they now threaten to strike."

Khalifa also says that the reason why the government is not paying enough attention to the oil workers is because they are busy trying to fix the security situation in Iraq.

"The demands are not against the law, or difficult to meet, but I most likely think that the poor security situation, and the complicated political crises in Iraq are taking the time, energy, and attention away from this very important sector that would affect Iraq's budget negatively if the workers struck."

Janan Al Ubaidi is a member of the parliament and from the Supreme Council of the Islamic Revolution in Iraq.

"I don't have any idea about this. The issue wasn't raised at the parliament session, or during the parties meetings. We had a meeting few hours ago, and this issue wasn't mentioned. This means one of two; either there is not such a strike, or it wasn't that important to be mentioned, and it was solved before we knew about it. It could be that it wasn't that of a problem that no one talked about it."

A strike is still pending. The Iraqi federations of oil unions feel that the government would give them their rights and what they are asking for, and due to that they haven't set a deadline for the start of the strike.