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Nigeria Averts Oil Strike

Nigeria's two main oil unions have called off plans for a planned sector-wide strike. Threats of the strike in sub-Saharan Africa's only OPEC-member state helped push up already high global oil prices.

The planned three-day shutdown of Nigeria's oil sector was to be, what unions called, a warning strike against worsening labor practices in the industry.

But last-minute mediation by the government led to the announcement by the sector's two main labor organizations, blue-collar union NUPENG and management union PENGASSAN, that the country's latest labor crisis had been averted.

NUPENG President Peter Akpatason says, although not all of the union's grievances have been resolved, he is satisfied with progress.

"It [the strike] has been suspended pending the implementation of the agreement that we have reached," he said. "The only thing that can make us go back to that situation is, if players in the industry renege on the agreement that was reached."

The unions had been reacting to, what they say, has been an increase in the number of Nigerian oil workers being laid off. Some redundancy letters are being given to relatives to sign, rather than to the workers themselves.

These workers are sometimes invited to return to their former companies, but without benefits.

The unions also accuse oil companies of favoring expatriate workers and steadily eroding benefits for domestic workers.

NUPENG and PENGASSAN reached compromise agreements with oil majors, including Shell and Chevron, during talks last week. But union representatives failed to reach an agreement with local oil company Tidex at a meeting Friday.

The unions are scheduled to meet with Tidex again this week. Any future strikes would focus on Tidex, and not the oil industry as a whole.

Public affairs analyst Tunde Martins says, although the results of last week's three-way negotiations involving the government, unions, and oil company representatives are encouraging, dialogue must not end there.

"The dialogue should continue," he said. "And the government should also seek more rapprochement with labor leaders. And, as labor leaders are also willing for arbitration and dialogue with the government, I think it is also important that the oil companies respond positively to this olive branch being waved by both the government and the labor unions."

Fears of a major oil worker strike in Nigeria, one of the world's top 10 oil-producing countries, contributed to a rise in prices that saw oil selling for more than $57 a barrel on world markets last week.

Oil unions regularly threaten to shut down Nigeria's petroleum sector, which produces about 2.5 million barrels of crude oil daily. But strikes seldom last long, and rarely disrupt exports