Jump to main content
IndustriALL logotype

Approaches and responses to Covid-19 in MENA’s energy sector

Read this article in:

  • English

17 December, 2020The pandemic has brought a sharp drop in oil and gas prices, heavily impacting the oil and gas dependent MENA countries. IndustriALL affiliates in the energy sector met virtually on 30 November to discuss the impact of and approaches and responses to Covid-19, as well as how they tackle the energy transition that is taking place in the region.

Climate change and a continued dependence on fossil fuel revenue pose considerable threats to the economies in the region. With economies in the region slated to contract by up to 6.6 per cent, economic pressure may tempt some countries to halt their energy transition plans. This puts the future of the region at risk as energy transformation could have a positive impact on the economy and environment. 

Meeting delegates discussed potential implications on workers, underlining the need to protect their rights and living standards and to deliver high-quality and sustainable industrial employment through a Just Transition in the sector.

Brahim, Benelfkih from Morocco Fédération nationale des travailleurs de l'énergie, said:

“The government is taking the opportunity of the crisis and accelerating the application of the laws concerning the privatization of the sector due to the energy transition. We insist on maintaining our workers’ rights and benefits especially the budgetary allocations for the social services to workers.”

Due to Covid-19, transportation has been halted in Algeria, a country covering more than two million square kilometers, taking a psychological toll on workers, especially those in remote areas. Some workers spend three months in remote areas where health and safety are not respected. Being frontline workers, ensuring a sustained flow of electricity, electricity workers deserve proper working conditions.

Hashmeya Alsaadawi, General Trade Union of Electricity Sector Employees of Iraq and co-chair of the MENA region, said:

“Unions in energy sector have been providing support to workers who lost their jobs due to the crisis. On 29 November, we met the advisor to the Prime Minister to discuss challenges faced by workers, like the lack of a law guaranteeing freedom of association, the non-recognition of unions in the public sector, and the delay in paying contract workers’ wages. We demanded that Iraq ratify ILO Convention 190 and expand the social insurance system to cover more workers in the private sector.”

Unions from Palestine, Kuwait and Jordan all stressed the importance of union actions during the pandemic.

Union reps from the General Union of Petrochemical Workers in Palestine distributed food, personal protection equipment and raised awareness about Covid-19, as well as requesting the government to support some factories affected by the crisis.
The Oil & Petrochemical Industries Workers Confederation in Kuwait helped the oil industry ministry in establishing medical facilities, set up in record time to alleviate pressure on health centers in the country.

The General Trade Union for Workers in Electricity in Jordan cooperated with companies to provide protection equipment. During the crisis, the government issued a decree allowing companies to pay only 50 per cent of salaries, but the union successfully negotiated with companies to pay 100 per cent of the salaries, in addition to the three additional months workers receive every year.

Abdelmajid Matoual, vice president of the MENA region, stressed the importance of the sharing experiences with colleagues in the region:

“We must share information to be able to build strong unions, to stand strong in front of the challenges and to guarantee better conditions and future for the workers.”

Kemal Özkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary, said:

“I read a report saying that US$6 billion of this year’s projected US$30 billion investments in oil and gas in the region are already lost. Workers should not have to pay the bill. Covid-19 has triggered difficulties in the region, and these must unify us to find a common ground to build trade union solidarity on.”