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Nigerian Oil Workers Threaten Walkout

Nigeria's senior oil workers union is threatening a nationwide strike to protest the firing of some of its members by ExxonMobil. Members are to meet later Tuesday, following the expiration of a 21-day ultimatum issued by the union to the oil company to desist from what the union termed "unfriendly" labor practices. For VOA, Gilbert da Costa reports from Abuja.

Officials of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association have been meeting top government officials in Abuja to avert the planned strike.

Union President Peter Esele denied reports the walkout is to begin Wednesday. He says his group, one of Nigeria's two biggest oil unions, will attend a meeting Wednesday called by the government .

"I had a meeting with NSA [national security advisor] yesterday, and DG [Director General], SSS [State Security Service]. So what the government is doing is to call parties for a meeting for Wednesday 4:00 PM," he said. "But sincerely speaking, I do not know where the press got Wednesday for strike. One thing we said was that there was a looming strike. We have not, the Central Working Committee, taken a date for a strike."

The union is protesting ExxonMobil job cuts that affected about 60 workers, mostly union officials working at the company.

Nigeria's main trades union, the Nigeria Labor Congress has endorsed the strike call and urged the government to intervene without delay.

ExxonMobil has rejected accusations of unfair treatment of the affected employees, insisting the workers fired under a reorganization plan received generous payouts.

The union says an indefinite strike could blight Nigeria's oil production and petroleum distribution. Analysts say a walkout may have limited success in the short-term, because a skeleton staff may be engaged at production facilities to limit the impact on output. But it could prove effective in the long run if other powerful unions join in solidarity.

But even a looming strike could increase pressure on international oil prices. Supply worries are stoking up concerns in Nigeria, Africa's largest oil producer, where production has been crippled by unrest.