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Unions call for policy intervention to save jobs at South African oil and gas refineries

17 February, 2022With several oil and gas refineries closing and further closures planned, unions are calling on the South African government to intervene to save jobs.

Last week shareholders of Sapref, a refinery jointly owned by BP and Shell, announced that they will suspend operations by the end of March. Sapref refines 35 per cent of imported crude oil in Durban. The statement comes on the back of the closure of Chevron’s Astron and Engen’s Wentworth refineries, which will potentially lead to the retrenchment of thousands of workers.

South Africa imports most of its crude oil from the Middle East and African countries. In addition, Sasol produces refined petroleum products for domestic use through crude oil refining, coal-to-liquid fuels, and gas to liquid fuels. Additionally, natural gas to liquid fuels production is done by state-owned enterprise, Petrosa, which has also shut down its refinery.

IndustriALL Global Union affiliates that organize in the petroleum sector, the Chemical, Energy, Paper, Printing, Wood and Allied Workers Union (CEPPWAWU) and the National Union of Metalworkers of South Africa (NUMSA), say the government must intervene through sustainable industrial policies to save jobs. The unions say the closure of refineries will affect the downstream value chain activities that include the refining, transportation, and marketing of petroleum products.

Irvin Jim, NUMSA general secretary says:

“Government must put a stop to the clearly orchestrated agenda by multinational oil companies such as Shell and BP, Engen, Sapref and Chevron where these companies have taken a conscious, greedy decision to close refineries in South Africa and simply import the finished product, diesel and petrol into the country, using propaganda that crude oil is unaffordable, and citing government’s strict regulation on sulphur pollution.

“Our message to the government is that in the interest of the country, in particular the importance of stimulating economic growth and to preserve and create jobs, government must not allow these greedy multinational oil companies who have chosen a get quick rich scheme, to shut down our local refineries and to simply import finished products, abusing licences to import.”

“Multinational oil and gas companies must negotiate with unions to save jobs and protect workers’ interests and livelihoods instead of closing down refineries and retrenching thousands of workers. Whilst the move to cleaner energy sources is necessary to reach net zero, the transition to cleaner fuels and renewable energy must be done in consultation with, and include unions, workers and affected communities,”

says Paule France Ndessomin, IndustriALL regional secretary for Sub Saharan Africa.

Photo: File image of NUMSA members marching for Just Transition