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Labor Protest Paralyzes Boscán Oil Field in Western Venezuela

By Marianna Párraga | El Universal

Venezuela producing 100,000 barrels per day less because of problems in the western region. The labor-management conflict situation is devastating PDVSA's Occidente division and having an impact on crude production, which stands at 100,000 barrels per day below what was expected by the budget, according to what President Chávez stated.

Caracas, 6 May 2005 | The dilemmas of PDVSA Occidente are not few. The sacking of 40 managers produced a chain of irregularities from which have spawned dozens of denouncements, at a time when more than 4,000 workers are simultaneously approaching the end of their labor contracts with the state-owned oil company, creating a wave of unemployment in the area.

Adding to this cumulus of problems, work was brought to a halt yesterday at five oil drilling rigs at Campo Boscán, in Urdaneta Municipality, of the State of Zulia, the reason being noncompliance with the collective contract for the industry, which is now in force, denounced Gabriel Navarro, leader of Fetrahidrocarburos (an oil workers union), who added that some 250 workers will continue protesting until the contractors who hire them meet their obligations, as they have promised repeatedly.

Campo Boscán is one of 32 operating agreements which PDVSA signed with private companies during the mid 90´s, under a contract which entails the extraction of asphalt crude oil by the operator—Chevron Texaco—in exchange for a recompense. Currently 130,000 BPD are extracted from this field, according to the latest indicators issued for the area.

Navarro recounted that the labor strike started at 5 am yesterday and in hours of the afternoon the unions were still negotiating with the companies involved in the conflict. “We have reached tentative agreements, but they have not been observed. The workers have been receiving wages from the contractors which do not match up with what the collective contract stipulates, all with Chevron’s consent," he said.

He reported that with other operating agreements the same thing is happening and he mentioned Shell as one of the firms whose contractors are in noncompliance with the contract in force. He also pointed out the firms in charge of personnel management at the PDVSA Occidente, which have not paid the salary increase set in January by convention.

Spokespersons from Chevron Texaco did not speak out on the matter.

Not Just the Private Companies

In a letter sent to the editor, Gregorio Rodríguiez, a member of the executive committee from Fedepetrol (oil workers union) confirmed there was noncompliance with what is established in the collective contract for the sector, noncompliance by private oil contractors and PDVSA itself.

“The new PDVSA that President Chávez wants to build will be only a dream, because in labor and management matters the new management is a nightmare for the workers, owing to the systematic and arbitrary noncompliance with the Organic Labor Law and the collective contract,” said the union representative.

Among the cases he mentions, there is one that stands out, one concerning the hiring for consultation services at the Puerto La Cruz refinery, consisting of employment activity not conforming to the benefits of the collective contract. “These workers do not exist on the PDVSA records as being part of the active labor force. There are also a large number of workers hired by PDVSA who have not received their wages in three months.”

The union leader further denounced the lack of adequate uniforms for personnel working in hazardous areas at Puerto La Cruz, such as tank farms and shipping terminal piers. Despite the fact that this benefit is expressly stipulated in the contract, Rodríguez affirmed that management at the refinery continuously falls short with respect to its performance, “endangering daily the health and safety of workers, not to mention the fact that they do not have any paramedics or ambulances at the oil shipping terminal."

About contractors and consultants, Rodríguez pointed out that 90% of them have not paid out the retroactive wage adjustments owed to workers for the salary raise in force since January. He added that before making the smallest of disbursements, these firms have to turn to PDVSA to cover their obligations to their workers.

Translation by W.K.

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