Delegates representing oil and gas workers from across the MENA region came to Beirut on 20-21 April to share information, build solidarity and launch the IndustriALL MENA Region Oil and Gas Workers Network.
Given the recent dramatic fall in the global price of oil, the meeting took place at a particularly appropriate time. It brought together unions from across the region, including major exporters of oil as well as major importers.
25 Participants came from both IndustriALL - affiliated trade unions and potential affiliates from 12 countries of the region were joined by representatives from oil and gas unions from Germany, France and Spain. The Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) Resident Director, Achim Vogt, also participated fully in the conference proceedings.
Discussions centered on the global oil and gas industry and the role and Importance of the MENA Region in the production. Following a detailed overview of the situation by Jim Catterson, IndustriALL Director of Energy Industries’ Section, delegates outlined the present situation of the industry in their countries, as well as the economic effects of the dramatic recent falls in the price of crude oil. Obviously there were major differences between countries that were major exporters of hydrocarbons and those that were major importers, however all saw that widely fluctuating prices had major detrimental effects.
The challenges and difficulties for oil and gas unions in the region were discussed, as well as how they could successfully ensure union building and organizing against a background of political and economic problems. Unions discussed the importance of building networks as well as better use of Global Framework Agreements (GFAs).
The importance of this was quickly realized when the Kuwaiti delegation were contacted by their union and informed that the government there had just announced an intention to change the oil and gas legislation in the country in a way that could result in the privatization of the industry. Clearly the union intended to struggle against this decision by all means possible. Conference delegates discussed the situation after hearing a report from their Kuwaiti brothers and together with the secretariat offered their full support and solidarity in such an important struggle.
Participants also examined the presence of multinational companies in the oil and gas industries of their countries, as well as whether or not the workforce was organized. The intention was to highlight potential organizing targets. However it was realized that there needed to be more time spent on gathering detailed information for this to be effective and it was decided that the secretariat would develop a questionnaire, that would be circulated in Arabic, to all participants and affiliated trade unions in the region to gather more information and a focus on identifying potential organizing opportunities would take place when the questionnaire results were analysed.
It was also agreed that the unions needed to both improve the participation of women and youth representatives in the Network, and also to ensure that their unions participated in the respective networks on these issues established at the MENA region.
Participants agreed to establish a small steering group which would take the work forward and ensure that the network of all the unions present would function in between this meeting and a follow up foreseen for next year. It was resolved that the steering group would include the oil unions from Kuwait, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco.
Jim Catterson says:
"This conference is a first step towards bringing the unions together in an effective network. Increased international cooperation and work will be essential to ensure trade unions not only survive but increase influence in a region dominated at present by armed conflict."