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Legal action ordered on oil disruption – Workers strike

Kuwaiti oil workers arrive at the union headquarter in Ahmadi on April 17 to protest alleged pay cuts and plans to privatise parts of the oil sector. Photo by Bassam Abu Shanab
Kuwaiti oil workers arrive at the union headquarter in Ahmadi on April 17 to protest alleged pay cuts and plans to privatise parts of the oil sector. Photo by Bassam Abu Shanab

KUWAIT CITY, April 17, (Agencies): The cabinet has entrusted concerned agencies with taking legal action against unacceptable practices, and with bringing to accountability anybody involved in the disruption of the country’s vital utilities. The cabinet said in a statement on Sunday it had asked Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) to take all necessary measures in order to provide required workers in order to keep work and production at oil facilities, and to honor local and international commitments. It urged all workers in the oil sector to show responsibility, sacrifice and positive responsible response by giving top priority to the country’s higher interest.

The cabinet added that it had monitored, with deep sorrow and much resentment, the negative effects of the strike carried out by some oil sector workers since it targets the disruption of vital oil facilities. The cabinet also reviewed relevant dimensions, aftershocks, details and estimated losses, not to mention other direct and indirect harms that could damage the country’s reputation and status.

The cabinet voiced full respect to all constitutional rights, mainly public liberties and freedom of expression, but within specific limits set out by Law No. 11/1996, excluding the right of strike due to its serious impacts on the public interest. This makes the strike an illegitimate act and violation of the law, which should be resolutely addressed and requires legal action against all those involved.

However, the cabinet appreciated the nature and significance of work and efforts of the workers of this vital sector, and highly commended all sincere efforts, distinguished efficient staff and all works of serious and sensitive nature at different positions and levels. The country’s critical economic situation triggered off by low oil prices and relevant adverse ramifications and challenges at present and in the future, requires that everybody should show national responsibility, sacrifice and positive responsible response to such challenges, and give top priority to higher interests, rather than narrow ones, it said.

In this regard, according to the statement, the Deputy Premier, Finance Minister and Acting Minister had announced that KPC would keep intact oil workers’ rights and benefits gained in line with the arbitration body and relevant international conventions. Article 103 of Law No. 6/2010 regarding working in the private sector, which applies to the oil sector, stipulates that employers and their unions must respect all laws in the state and exercise their activities within specific goals, and regulate a dispute-settlement mechanism that does not include labor strikes, the cabinet added.

It emphasized that there should not be any threat to the country’s interests, reputation or status, warning that any threat cannot be condoned by all sincere and honest Kuwaitis. Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) and its subsidiaries confirmed Sunday exports have been carried out smoothly despite the strike by oil workers, and production at a fertilizer plant, closed earlier Sunday, resumed. KPC’s International Marketing Department reported that oil exports have been normal since Sunday morning, spokesman of the oil sector Sheikh Talal Khaled Al-Sabah said in a statement. He said tankers were supplied with crude oil and by-products “which affirms to our clients that KPC is capable of honoring demands of international market.

“He confirmed that operations at the fertilizer plant, which were suspended earlier Sunday to use the gas in the factory for power stations, were resumed. Sheikh Talal said gas cylinder filling operations in Shuaiba and Umm Al-Aish plants returned to their normal daily production. Kuwait National Guard (KNG) took over operations in the two plants earlier Sunday and managed to resume functions suspended due to the strike. Sheikh Talal meanwhile said oil and gas production carried out by Kuwait Oil Company (KOC) was on the rise “and reaching the normal average figures is not far.” Sheikh Talal said KOC called retirees and some workers from local companies, and would operate crude oil gathering center No. 24 tomorrow.

He said Kuwait National Petroleum Company’s (KNPC) three refineries were operating normally, and fuel supplies were reaching local gas stations and power stations. Thousands of Kuwait’s oil workers began an open-ended strike on Sunday in protest at plans to cut their wages, action which saw the emirate’s crude production plunge. The strike comes as world oil producers gathered in Qatar aiming to negotiate an output freeze to boost prices.

“Thousands of workers began their strike,” the oil workers union chief Saif al-Qahtani told AFP, adding that production had been partly halted but without clarifying which sites were affected. “Observed since 7:00 am (0400 GMT), this open-ended strike will continue until the workers’ demands are met,” Qahtani said. On Saturday, the union turned down an appeal from Kuwait’s acting oil minister, Anas al-Saleh, to call off the strike. Hit by the sharp drop in crude prices on world markets, Kuwait is introducing a new payroll scheme for all public employees and wants to include the country’s 20,000 oil workers, which would mean an automatic cut in wages and incentives. In the midst of calls for the oil sector unions to uphold public interests and wisdom to avoid causing damage to the country’s oil sector, there have been reports that the main instigator of the strike is an Egyptian, identified only as Safwat, reports Al-Shahed daily. The daily added, Safwat is a very influential personality and member of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement and that he has been acting on behalf of the parent body in Egypt in coordination with its branches in Turkey and Kuwait.

The main purpose of the strike, the daily said, is to disrupt the country’s oil flow and cause chaos. According to information, the Egyptian was earlier working for the Ministry of Social Affairs and Labor and he was shown the door by Minister Hind Al- Subaih she discovered the destructive role played by Safwat in coordination with the Brotherhood movement in Egypt. The security agencies have neither confirmed nor denied the role of Safwat who was reportedly seen during the meeting of oil unions, presenting himself as the legal adviser and media man. His presence during the meeting was reportedly arranged by the Muslim Brotherhood branch of Kuwait. Sources said Safwat was present at the last meeting of the unions and had reportedly instigated the unions not to back down from their demands.

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