October 10, 2018 / 6:53 PM / 13 days ago

Cash-strapped Venezuela sets new wages for oil workers as protests simmer

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela on Wednesday increased wages for workers at state energy company PDVSA after employees staged small protests to decry meager salaries amid the OPEC nation’s economic meltdown.

FILE PHOTO: Workers of state-run oil company PDVSA shout and hold a flag with their corporate logo during a rally against imperialism in Caracas March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

Socialist President Nicolas Maduro in August unexpectedly ordered a 60-fold increase in the minimum wage to compensate for around 500,000 percent annual inflation and a 96 percent devaluation of the bolivar currency.

But workers at PDVSA [PDVSA.UL] said their wages had not been bumped up accordingly, and that the cash-starved company had instead been paying one-off bonuses.

FILE PHOTO: Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro attends a meeting with workers of state-run oil company PDVSA, next to Venezuela's Vice President Tareck El Aissami, in Caracas, Venezuela June 5, 2018. Miraflores Palace/Handout via REUTERS

Vice-President Delcy Rodriguez, flanked by pro-government union leaders, on Wednesday announced new wages but did not provide specific figures, instead praising PDVSA’s attitude in the face of U.S. sanctions.

“To the PDVSA workers, our gratitude, because they have been a fundamental pillar in the defense of the oil industry against attacks from imperialist centers of power,” said Rodriguez, a key Maduro ally.

A PDVSA worker and two former employees said the new wages remained inadequate and would not halt a brain drain that has the company desperate for engineers and chemists just as its production sinks to its lowest in decades.

According to an unofficial summary of the new salaries circulated by PDVSA workers, the lowest monthly salary is now 1,800 bolivars - the official minimum wage - or just $13.70 a month. The highest salary, for executives, was put at 6,400 bolivars, a whisker above $49 a month.

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PDVSA did not respond to a request for information about the salaries.

Thousands of oil workers are fleeing the state-run firm under the watch of its new military management, which has quickly alienated the firm’s embattled upper echelon and its rank-and-file, sources have told Reuters.

Those who remain are increasingly unmotivated, irate over low wages, and fearful of work accidents as PDVSA’s installations deteriorate due to years of underinvestment and mismanagement.

“There is a lot of anger, and at the same time motivation, because workers have woken up and are not putting up with this anymore,” one refinery worker said this week.

Still, fears of dismissal and heavy military presence at PDVSA have kept protests in check in Venezuela, home to the world’s biggest crude reserves.

Reporting by Alexandra Ulmer; Editing by Marguerita Choy

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