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Trade unions escalate global struggle against Shell

29 September, 2017IndustriALL Global Union affiliates meeting in the Netherlands this week committed to launching a campaign against oil and gas giant Shell. 

Trade unions representing Shell workers in 14 different countries gathered in Vlaardingen from 25 to 26 September for the Shell Global Union Network. Participants want Shell to:

  • Recognize the Network as a counterpart for a genuine social dialogue at a global level;
  • Limit the use of precarious work at Shell and protect precarious workers’ rights;
  • Be a sustainable company, so it respects its commitments to international standards of the environment, communities and human rights;
  • Apply the same high-level international health and safety standards and procedures at Shell operations everywhere, including suppliers.

The meeting which was supported by the FES foundation, took place opposite the massive Shell refinery in the country. Shell is the biggest company in the Netherlands and operates in 140 countries. Speaking at the second day of the meeting, Tuur Elzinga, Executive Board member of IndustriALL’s Dutch affiliate, FNV, said:

“Global capital is organized globally, and so should the trade union movement. Yes, we are proud of Shell but we are sometimes ashamed by the actions taken by Shell management.”

Shell has repeatedly refused to engage in dialogue with the Network, saying it only negotiates with unions on a national level. Unions want this to change. Tuur Elzinga said that while conditions for workers are good in some countries, there must be “a minimum floor for standards in all Shell countries - or the race to the bottom never stops. We must help colleagues in all parts of the world. We have to work together.”

Precarious work was highlighted as a major and growing concern by participants from many countries, such as Nigeria, Argentina and the Netherlands. Elsewhere, affiliates from Iraq reported how workers were exposed to extreme working conditions, toiling in life-threatening 50-degree heat. Brazilian agricultural workers' union, FERAESP, also reported on the difficulties of organizing its members who are harvesting sugar cane for Shell’s ethanol fuels.

In addition, the meeting addressed sustainability and the digitization of the oil and gas industry.  The energy sector has the greatest capacity to create green jobs, said IndustriALL’s energy director, Diana Junquera Curiel. “We want Shell to be a sustainable company that shifts to producing clean energy, while respecting workers' rights and ensuring a just transition for workers and their communities,” she added.

Entidhar Kamil Al-Maatoq, from the Iraqi Fedearation of Oil Unions, brought attention to the discrimination against women working in the oil and gas industry in Iraq. Al-Maatoq, an engineer at Shell, is the only woman working with 100 men at her workplace in Basra. She revealed how she is paid less for doing the same job as her male counterparts at Shell. She also said women frequently get passed over for jobs in the industry even if they have the same or even better qualifications and experience than men. 

Diana Junquera Curiel, concluded:

Shell has ignored us for too long. Refusing to enter into dialogue with trade unions on a global level is unacceptable when workers are being played off against each other around the world.  Shell needs to keep its commitments to the same high international labour and environmental standards in all countries where it operates. We want to bring more countries and trade unions to our Network to support workers in their struggles.

Affiliates also said they would use the World Day for Decent Work on 7 October to protests against precarious work at Shell.