October 19, 2011 / 6:23 AM / 8 years ago

Gabon oil union holds back from strike for now

LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Gabon’s oil trade union held back on Tuesday from a previous threat to call a strike but warned the government it could still take action if its demands on boosting local employment in the sector were not met.

The ONEP union said last week its talks with the government of the central African producer had collapsed and threatened to lodge a formal strike notice this week.

The two sides have been locked in talks for months over the widespread use of foreign workers in the sector. ONEP in April managed to shut down all of Gabon’s 240,000 barrels per day output during a four-day strike over the local hiring issue.

ONEP spokesman Arnaud Engandji said the union had decided this week to tour sites and sound out its members on the issue.

“If the government does not take measures with immediate effect to address our demands ... the actions which will follow risk having major consequences not just for the oil operators but also for the country,” he said.

Oil Minister Alexandre Barro Chambrier said the government took ONEP’s demands seriously and was trying to find long-term solutions to a sector in which oil firms from Europe, the United States and elsewhere have long been active.

“Clear instructions have been given to the government by the head of state Ali Bongo Ondimba so that we do not see any more crises in this sector which is so important to our economy,” he told Reuters by telephone.

A law limiting foreign workers to 10 percent of the sector has yet to be ratified, but President Ali Bongo Odimba has urged his government to start implementing the local quota, sparking complaints from some in the business of heavy-handed checks on working permits of expatriate staff.

Around 5,000 Gabonese are employed in the oil sector. While no total figure for the number of expatriate workers was available, ONEP says over 2,800 foreign workers do not have the necessary papers. Those expatriate workers argue that for years authorities did not require them to hold a work permit.

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