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Brazilian oil workers on strike against layoffs at Petrobas

11 February, 2020Brazilian oil workers' union FUP have called an indefinite national strike, protesting against Petrobas' plans to shut down a nitrogen fertilizer plant and lay off more than 1,000 workers.

The FUP, part of CNQ/CUT, which is affiliated to IndustriALL Global Union, launched the strike on 1 February, campaigning for the 396 direct employees and 600 subcontracted workers who will be affected by the plant closure. Layoffs are expected to start on 14 February.

According to the union, the mass layoffs violate the collective agreement signed in November 2019. In the agreement, Petrobras agreed to no mass layoffs for five years without prior consultation with the unions. The announced dismissals at the fertilizer plant came without first discussing alternatives with the union.

FUP says that the fertilizer plant is not the only Petrobras unit experiencing difficulties, and there has been layoffs and mass transfers of employees across the Petrobras system, which includes subsidiaries and privately owned companies connected to Petrobas.

President Jair Bolsonaro's government supports the privatization of Petrobras. Over five years, the oil company has cut its investments in Brazil by 50 per cent, resulting in the loss of 270,000 direct and subcontracted jobs.

Workers from more than 30 Petrobas units have come together for the strike. Various campaigns are run across the twelve Brazilian states in which the oil company operates.

On 4 February, Brazil's employment court ruled that if the workers continue to strike, large unions with more than 2,000 members, like FUP, would be fined 500,000 reales (US$116,000), while smaller unions would be fined 250,000 (US$58,000) reales.

The ruling also required 90 per cent of the Petrobas workforce to return to work. The FUP announced that it would continue the indefinite strike, and that support from the national federation of oil workers (FNP) helped to increase the scope of the action.

Lucineide Varjão, IndustriALL regional co-chair, mining sector co-chair, as well as CNQ/CUT president, says:

"The strike is a real challenge for the workers. Brazi's government, its judiciary and its main media outlets will try and stop the campaign and turn public opinion against the unions. But we are convinced that the union movement will do what is needed to support the workers.”