By Alexis Akwagyiram
LAGOS, July 11 (Reuters) – Leaders of a Nigerian trade union whose members are on strike held talks with government officials on Monday aimed at resolving the dispute, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) and a union leader said.
The strike by about 10,000 Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) members, including refinery workers and office staff, began on Thursday over issues the union said were “critical to the survival of the oil and gas industry in the country”.
The industrial action has raised fears there could be fuel shortages in the OPEC member country which last week prompted NNPC to caution the public against panic fuel purchases.
“Talks are currently going on at the NNPC Towers with PENGASSAN and government officials,” said Garba Deen Muhammad, a spokesman for the state oil company on Monday. NNPC Towers are the state oil company’s headquarters in the capital, Abuja.
A petroleum ministry source said Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, minister of state for oil, and the new group managing director of NNPC, Maikanti Kacalla Baru, were among those taking part in talks with the union’s leaders.
“Still ongoing, although negotiations are continuing tomorrow,” Lumumba Okugbawa, the union’s acting general secretary, said in a text message when asked about the progress of the talks.
There have not been signs of fuel shortages so far and, although the strike is being enforced by PENGASSAN members, workers from other trade union such as Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) are not involved.
The strike comes as Nigeria’s energy sector contends with a spate of attacks by militants on oil and gas facilities in its southern Niger Delta region over the last few months which briefly pushed oil production this spring to 30-year lows.
PENGASSAN said it decided to strike over issues such as joint venture funding and cash call arrears, which it said had stalled the creation of new jobs and investment in the sector.
Cash calls are the government’s financial obligations to joint venture projects between NNPC and international and local oil companies.
Earlier this year petrol shortages caused lengthy queues for motorists seeking to fill their tanks after fuel importers struggled to find dollars needed to pay for refined oil products due to central bank foreign exchange restrictions. (Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja, editing by David Evans)
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