By A Staff Reporter -
MUSCAT — A committee comprising representatives of the Manpower Ministry, Oil and Gas Ministry, Oman Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Sultanate’s Labour Confederation held a series of meetings to look into the reasons behind strike action by workers at the oil and gas production sites.
The Manpower Ministry, while studying the demands, urged the workers to observe the laws and regulations related to stopping work and the negative impacts of the same on the individual, society and the national economy in general, said an official of the ministry.
Operations at many of the company's desert locations remained crippled as striking bus drivers and others kept thousands of oilfield crews stranded in their camps in places as far afield as Marmul in the south to Fahud in the north.
However, a senior government official stressed that oil flows from the vast network remained unaffected as of late yesterday, while warning however that a prolonged stoppage could potentially impact output.
Production continues unimpeded at the current average for May at around 551,000 barrels per day (bpd), with condensate volumes averaging 100,000 bpd, he said.
According to sources, several hundred transport crew and helpers, employed by nearly a dozen oilfield contracting and subcontracting firms, walked off their jobs on Thursday afternoon to press for higher pay benefits.
Chief among their demands is a so-called ‘hardship allowance’ as compensation for what they claim as exposure to various “risks and hazards” characteristic of the oilfield and desert environment.
One worker who spoke to the Observer cited “potential exposure to hazardous H2S and other noxious gases” as an example of the risks that he and colleagues usually encounter in oilfield areas.
As the strike entered its fourth day, various contracting and subcontracting firms despatched their senior executives to help secure an end to the crisis.
They were joined by high-level officials from the Ministry of Oil and Gas, Ministry of Manpower, and the Oman Society for Petroleum Services (Opal). It is understood that the striking workers are seeking a written assurance from the government — and not from their respective employers per se — that their demands would be met before calling off their protest.
“We are not ready to withdraw the strike until the government commits in writing that it would accede to our demands. Assurances from the private contractors and subcontractors do not count at this point. We are determined to keep our action going for as long as necessary,” the worker, who declined to be identified, said.
The striking staff belong to a number of oilfield contractors and subcontractors, it is learnt.
Meanwhile, thousands of workers, as well some senior level Omani staff of contracting companies, remained holed up in their camps as striking workers refused to ferry them to their places of work for the fourth consecutive day.
On Thursday and Friday, some crews did manage to reach their worksites after the workers agreed to allow non-striking staff to operate buses. However, this concession was withdrawn effective from Saturday when the striking workers decided to enforce a lockdown of the camps. Only 4WDs and light vehicles were permitted out of the camps, it is learnt. Nevertheless, the passage of water tankers, food carriers and emergency vehicles continues to be permitted in and out of the camps at all times.
With no sign of an immediate breakthrough, many non-striking workers are ruing the loss of overtime and other benefits as they idle away in their camps.
“We hope some solution will be found soon because the impact is being felt by all – strikers and non-strikers alike. Many of us look forward to the overtime that we earn while assigned to the desert,” an employee lamented.