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Shell unions to collaborate on organizing

9 July, 2019IndustriALL Global Union affiliates from eight countries met in London on 3 and 4 July 2019 for the fifth Shell Global Union Network meeting, and committed to closer collaboration, particularly in organizing workers at the multinational energy company.

Trade union representatives from IndustriALL affiliates in Belgium, Brazil, Colombia, Morocco, Netherlands, Nigeria, Norway and USA met for the fifth annual meeting of the network which is supported by FES

The meeting opened with an update on the Shell campaign, which over the past year has included a mission to Port Harcourt in Nigeria, as well as interventions at the International Labour Conference and the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, to highlight union busting and poverty living conditions of contract workers at Shell Nigeria. Most recently, IndustriALL raised workers’ rights at the Shell AGM in May. 

In Nigeria, IndustriALL affiliate, NUPENG, says that all blue-collar workers have been outsourced at Shell, and they have only been able to organize logistics workers due to anti-union practices by the company.

“Workers are automatically sacked if they try to talk to a union. If a contractor company talks to a union, Shell signals that they won’t renew the contract,” said Olawale Afolabi, NUPENG general secretary.

Shell has repeatedly denied the allegations but, says Afolabi:  

"The onus is on Shell to prove that workers, who are contributing to profits, are protected and have the right to good conditions. Shell is making the victim find the evidence.”

A key of the goal of the Shell campaign is to reduce outsourcing at the company, which affects all operations.

In Norway, Jorn Boe, from Industri Energi, told how workers are being hired in to work at Shell for four years as a contractor, after which time they are entitled to permanent employment. However, workers are being kicked out and replaced by someone else just before the four years is over.

In the USA, the United Steelworkers (USW), noted that the entire maintenance force at Shell’s new ethylene cracker plant, which is under construction in Pennsylvania, will be contracted out, putting a question mark over safety and making it difficult to organize the workers.

The USW also said that Shell in the US is specifically looking to award contracts to companies that are non-union. The USW and Dutch affiliate FNV committed to working together to increase organizing at Shell.

Participants heard different approaches to collective bargaining from the USW and FNV. USW has negotiated good pay rises and improvements in health and safety, while FNV has also included provisions for training and career development for its members.

Furthermore, FNV has been able to negotiate a supplementary top up payment for workers at Shell’s NUM subsidiary of up to 20 per cent of their original salary for two years if they take a lesser paid job elsewhere. This is to provide a Just Transition for workers who are moving out of the fossil fuel sector into sectors that are not as well paid.

IndustriALL’s director for sustainability, Brian Kohler, advised participants how unions can best prepare for changes in the oil sector brought about by automation, digitalization and efforts to meet carbon emission targets.

Edson Dias Bicalho, from FEQUIMFAR/FS in Brazil, which represents workers at Shell ethanol production subsidiary, Raízen, said increased mechanization has reduced the number of injuries and accidents at the firm. It has also led to women working right across the production process, not just in administration.  

Joosje de Lang from FNV and Oluchi Amaogu-Fellix from NUPENG made a presentation on how unions can help break down the barriers that prevent women working in male-dominated sectors, such as oil and gas. 

Joosje de Lang and Oluchi Amaogu-Fellix 

In Morocco, Mohamed Doumar from petrol and gaz union FNTPGPA-UMT, reported pay increases for Shell workers through industry-wide collective bargaining. He also said the country’s only oil refinery, Samir, has finally shut down after being declared bankrupt.

As Shell prepares to start operations in the Colombia, Ludwing Gozmez Almeida, from petroleum union, USO, highlighted the grave threats to trade unionists in the country. In the past 30 years, over 100 of his union colleagues have been murdered in Colombia.

Participants concluded the meeting with plans to support one another and cooperate more as the oil and gas industry diversifies and changes due to automation and digitization.

IndustriALL energy director, Diana Junquera Curiel, said:

“This is what international solidarity means. It is really important that countries with good relations with Shell, and with power, take a strong position with the company. By uniting we can achieve so much more.”