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Shell workers determined to overcome Covid-19 challenges

6 November, 2020At IndustriALL’s 6th Shell union network meeting, workers from over 15 countries came together virtually to discuss how trends and developments in the sector and the Covid-19 pandemic impact workers at Shell operations.

Unions have been asking Shell to be sustainable, limit precarious work and recognize IndustriALL as a counterpart for years, but the company continues to refuse to engage.

Some participants reported that Shell is closing refineries or disinvesting without clear plans for transforming those factories to produce green fuels. There is a need for a Just Transition for workers and the environment.

“Workers’, particularly oil and gas workers’, health and safety have been severely impacted by the pandemic. Shell management has not been responsive to our call for dialogue. WE must speak up for our voices to be heard, we must continue sharing and strategize for the next steps,”

said Kemal Ozkan, IndustriALL assistant general secretary.

The global lockdown in March saw oil prices drop drastically. Shell reported losses of US$18 billion from January to September as oil demand fell, yet on the same day the company also reported that it would raise dividends for shareholders by 4 per cent. 

Ejims Chinda, from Nupeng in Nigeria, reported that the pandemic has brought even more difficulties for the workers: 

“Workers are forced to accept unhealthy work conditions in order to not lose their jobs. Collective agreements are not being respected, management are finding ways to cut corners and cut costs. Workers are working long hours and not paid enough.

“Not even when workers have contracted Covid on the job and are forced to quarantine, are they taken care of by the employer. Those who used to work in offices now work from home; they do not have the necessary infrastructure at home and their jobs are in jeopardy.” 

Mike Smith, from US union USW, reported that the overall outlook for the industry is bleak and with Covid-19 cases skyrocketing, the union has had to intervene to make sure that Shell workers are protected. 

“Shell created a Covid-19 pay for two weeks in case of quarantine. Last month they informed us that it could only be used once, so from October, if you have used it already, you can’t benefit from it again. We have demanded to bargain some of the changes as workers impacted by Covid need to be protected.”

Ludwing Gomez from Colombia reported that as anticipated, Shell will launch operations in Colombia. In January, Shell signed a contract with Ecopetrol for three fields.

“Once the pandemic was upon us, we had to look at our strategy for organizing workers in difficult times. We have witnessed union busting, violence and threats which makes our work difficult. As a trade union, our purpose it to make sure that we can talk to Shell and organize workers,”

said Gomez.

Shell has said that they are far from where they should be when it comes to supporting workers in a Just Transition. 

Diana Junquera Curiel, IndustriALL Energy director said that Shell is clearly aware of their shortcomings, but still do nothing for their workforce globally.

“The trends are the same in all of the countries and the difficulties are similar. We need a Just Transition for workers. We need our unions now more than ever and we need them to be stronger. We will continue to confront Shell, and continue to demand adequate rights for Shell workers globally. They need to know that we are here and that we are not going to give up.”