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DNO continues to evade responsibility as court rules in favour of Yemeni workforce

18 May, 2017DNO, the Norwegian company that fired its workforce by text message when war broke out in Yemen, is still trying to avoid paying its workers, despite three court rulings against it.

DNO ended its operations in Yemen and fired 198 workers in April 2015 by text message and email. The company gave no notice and paid no redundancy, in violation of Yemeni labour law. It also violated the joint venture production sharing agreement with the government. 

Both the union and the government sought dialogue with the company about alternatives. When the company refused to negotiate, the DNO Yemen Union – part of IndustriALL Global Union’s Yemeni affiliate - took the company to the labour court. In August 2016, the court ruled in favour of the workers, confirming that the dismissal was illegal, and ordered the company to pay outstanding wages or have its assets seized.

In Yemen, if a company is granted a license to operate an oil field, it must pay wages and social obligations for as long it has the license. According to the company, the licenses were returned to the government in December 2016. The company is liable for wages and redundancy pay at least up till that point.

Instead of complying, the company appealed the ruling. The appeal court also found in favour of the workers. The company left Yemen without a proper handover of assets, in violation of its operating license. On 20 February 2017, the Yemeni court confirmed an order to seize the company’s assets.

In January, an international union campaign was launched, and more than 9,000 people wrote to DNO executive chairman Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani, condemning the company’s behaviour.

Instead, the company appealed again in April 2017, this time to the Supreme Court. In a victory for the workers on 2 May 2017, the Supreme Court requested the Yemeni oil and mineral ministry not to release DNO from its obligations until it has paid its workers.

However, the union is concerned that the ministry is not prioritizing compensation for the workers. The union held demonstrations in front of the presidential palace, asking for the government to intervene, directly employ them and reopen the oil field.

They fear the company’s strategy is to wear down the workers’ resistance through attrition.

In the meantime, workers are struggling to feed their families.

At a recent oil and gas union network meeting in Beirut, Anees Alhatari of DNO Yemen Union said:

“For 23 months now, DNO workers have faced very harsh circumstances because of the war. There are no jobs and the security situation is deteriorating. This puts a lot of emotional stress on these workers.

“I have noticed a lot of mental issues amongst the employees because of the war and because of what DNO has done.”

The Norwegian union Industri Energi filed an OECD complaint against DNO, on behalf of the Yemen union, for failure to comply with OECD guidelines on respecting international labour standards. Although the company argued that the OECD had no jurisdiction because Industri Energi does not organize the affected workers, the OECD upheld the complaint, which is now being considered.

IndustriALL assistant general secretary Kemal Özkan said:

“The courts in Yemen have now found in favour of the workers on three occasions. The global trade union movement is also pursuing a complaint at the OECD, and will also consider other avenues.

“It is time for DNO to stop running from its responsibilities, and to pay the money the courts have ruled they owe to their workforce.”

Norwegian unions are also pressurizing shareholders to divest from DNO.