24 April, 2019Representatives from Middle East and North Africa (MENA) oil and gas unions met for the fifth time in Beirut, Lebanon on 23-24 April, as part of a network supported by the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung. Delegates from Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Mauritania, Morocco and Tunisia attended, with guests from Norway.
Ahmed Kamel of IndustriALL opened by noting that as this was the fifth meeting, the network had become sustainable:
“We have achieved a lot since the creation of this network. We need to decide where we want to be in five years. It is up to you to identify your priorities and develop an action plan. We will support you all the way.”
IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan introduced the political context, saying that the viability of different production methods is affected by the oil price, making the sector uniquely vulnerable to geopolitical pressures. The MENA region is the worst in the world for violations of trade union rights.
Energy director Diana Junquera Curiel spoke about global trends in the industry, and the state of union organizing in the major companies.
“This sector faces a central contradiction. We need to balance the energy needs of a growing population and developing economies with the imperative to take action on climate change. Globally, there is an increase in energy demand, leading to the combined demand for more energy and less carbon. Our challenge is to ensure that it is not workers who are caught out by this contradiction.”
Lebanon country manager for Total, Daniel Alvarez, joined the meeting to express the company’s commitment to the global framework agreement with IndustriALL, and to developing healthy industrial relations in the region.
After sector co-chair Frode Alfheim of Norwegian affiliate Industri Energi explained the pressures the industry is under to become more sustainable and how this affects unions, general secretary Valter Sanches spoke about Just Transition. He said,
“The oil and gas sector is important to us. We want to retain it because it generates value, for workers as well as for society. Renewables are getting cheaper. There is now an economic incentive for energy transition as well as a political imperative. We need be part of this discussion, otherwise companies will use it as an excuse to restructure and fire workers.”
Health, safety and sustainability director Brian Kohler lead a session on occupational health and safety (OHS), which is neglected by the region's employers and governments. “This is a toxic job”, he said, “and occupational illness counts for 80 per cent of deaths. Unions can't wait for employers to identify and remedy hazards.”
“A union safety rep needs to learn to be a barefoot epidemiologist. A notebook is your most important tool. Look for patterns of diseases. Don't forget to follow up with retired workers. Identify agents known to cause these diseases. Look at the work processes and find overlaps.”
The delegates intend to create an OHS committee to share and translate material and develop a safety culture. They also expressed great interest in developing their understanding of oil and gas industry economics, so that they can counter the arguments that employers put to them.