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Rebuilding union strength in Caspian region

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17 October, 2018Unions representing workers in the oil and gas sector of the Caspian Sea region gathered in Baku, Azerbaijan, for a network meeting on 3 October 2018.

The meeting which gathered union delegates from Russia, Azerbaijan and Turkey, is an attempt to revitalize the activities and mutual exchange of information between the unions in the network, which last met in Kazakhstan in 2014.

Oil and gas workers in the region are facing numerous challenges in their working and living conditions such as spoiled water, contamination and the fluctuating level of the Caspian Sea. In Azerbaijan alone, some 11 million people live around the sea and directly or indirectly depend on it in their daily life and work.

At the same time, the influence of the companies working in the region stretches far. In Turkey, IndustriALL affiliate Petrol-Is has strong presence in oil companies, including the Azerbaijani state oil company SOCAR that invests a lot in the country.

One of the issues of union concern is the agreement signed in August between the countries on the Caspian coast, based on proposals for a potential separation of the sea territory. Currently, there are offshore oilfields in the Caspian Sea exploited by the multinational corporations from different countries, both from and outside the region. If they are pushed away, many jobs could disappear.

 During the meeting the network discussed and set the following main objectives to:

  • Cooperate with multinational companies operating in the area, priorities should be set regarding which companies to seek dialogue with;
  • Cooperate around pipelines. Make sure that all the pipelines are unionized;
  • Develop an exchange platform of necessary contacts;
  • List common issues in the sector for the region;
  • Further discuss ways to improve working conditions and the environment;
  • Establish an organizing strategy.

The participants shared the main problems their unions are facing, including problems related to privatization, outsourcing in the sector, as well as difficulty in organizing workers at both contractors and multinational companies.

Azerbaijan oilfield operations have been active for more than 70 years and the challenge now is to modernize them. Lack of modernization makes safety at work a key issue. However, heavy investment is needed, as some 95 per cent of the exploration is offshore.

Russian Oil, Gas and Construction Workers Union reported of existing agreements concluded with the main operating in the field companies, Rosneft, Tatneft, Lukoil and Gazprom. The union participates in health and safety commissions; however, the safety situation needs to be improved as so far annually 30 to 50 workers die at work.

Turkish delegates referred to the problem of increasingly precarious working conditions even at the state-run enterprises.

Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL Energy Industry director said,

“This was a fruitful meeting, the participants agreed that unions operating in the region have to come together and share their experiences in order to improve their knowledge and strategies. Almost all the big oil and gas multinational companies are operating in the region so it’s important to involve them in the process to establish a genuine social dialogue.”