Oil workers ‘end’ strike – Prices fall

KUWAIT CITY, April 20, (Agencies): His Highness the Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah on Wednesday emphasized that there is no room at all to respond to coercive demands, such as abstaining from work or disrupting public interests or vital services, which is highly dangerous and poses a serious threat to state pillars.

His Highness the Premier made the stress during a meeting at Bayan Palace Wednesday with chairman of the Oil and Petrochemical Industries Workers Confederation and heads of other oil trade unions.

Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak responded to the meeting request in the wake of an initiative by the confederation to end the strike, which began on Sunday, as all workers were back to work Wednesday morning.

The meeting focused on the negative impact of the oil and petrochemical workers’ strike, namely the disruption of production at vital oil facilities and the ensued losses.

During the meeting, His Highness the Prime Minister thanked the workers who did not respond to the call for the strike so as not to disrupt work in the oil sector, prioritizing public interests.

Their positive reaction was in line with a national conviction of the necessity of protecting public funds and avoiding harm to public interest. His Highness the Premier expressed deep regret over the huge material damage and excessive losses to public funds and the national economy caused by the strike.

He referred to other direct and indirect losses to Kuwait’s reputation and status. Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak appreciated the confederation and its members, for their courage to return to the right path, prioritizing public interests, through their national initiative to end the strike, a move to be taken into account.

In addition, His Highness the Prime Minister reiterated what was previously stressed by the cabinet, namely constant and full respect to the legal rights of workers in all government bodies and state sectors. Disputing these rights or detracting them is out of question. In the meantime, His Highness the Premier underlined that he would spare no effort to do justice to all sincere efforts, distinguished and efficient staff and jobs of risky nature in all state bodies.

Amid the critical economic conditions the country is experiencing due to the unprecedented falls of oil prices and the ensued serious repercussions and challenges, all Kuwaitis, officials and citizens, have to manifest a spirit of national responsibility, sacrifice and positive reaction to these threats, prioritizing public interests, to guarantee the defeat of these conditions, Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak. His Highness the Prime Minister underlined the fact that Kuwait is a state of institutions and impartial and efficient judiciary, a real source of pride, and that there is always room for others’ opinion.

There is no way for dictating views, His Highness the Premier said, and also stressed the significance of calm and civilized dialogue. The cabinet will never accept an act that might harm state interests, reputation or status, nor will all sincere Kuwaitis. Kuwait’s state oil firm said Wednesday it expects to restore full production within three days after workers ended a strike in a surprise about-turn that triggered a renewed slide in world prices.

The walkout by thousands of staff of Kuwait Petroleum Corp. (KPC) and its subsidiaries on Sunday in a dispute over planned pay cuts had slashed the emirate’s output from 3.0 million barrels per day to 1.5 million and prompted a brief rally in world prices. But early on Wednesday the Kuwait Oil Workers Union announced its members were returning to work after what it called an “extremely successful” strike that had made the government pay attention to their concerns. Staff were already returning to work in response to the union’s call, KPC said, adding that operations at its installations were resuming. Company spokesman Sheikh Talal Khaled al-Sabah said a gradual return to normal production of 3.0 million bpd “would take around three days”.

The union’s surprise announcement, which came just hours after its leaders had vowed to continue the strike until all their demands were met, quashed hopes the disruption could help ease a persistent supply glut and saw oil shed nearly a dollar on world markets.

Around 1100 GMT, US benchmark West Texas Intermediate for delivery in May was down 91 cents at $40.17 a barrel, and Brent North Sea crude for June delivery fell 70 cents to $43.32. Prices “are coming under pressure again… after oil workers in Kuwait agreed to end their strike against wage and job cuts and work to return output to pre-strike levels”, said analyst Craig Erlam at trading firm Oanda.

The climbdown by the union came after an appeal by acting oil minister Anas al-Saleh on Tuesday night for staff to return to work so that negotiations could be held on their demands. “We cannot sit at the negotiating table while the strike is still going on. Return to work and come and negotiate,” he told the private Al-Rai satellite television. The union has yet to comment on the talks. The workers’ demands include dropping plans to cut some benefits in the face of falling oil prices and excluding the sector from a new payroll scheme for public employees. Saleh, who is also finance minister, said the government had not yet implemented any decision regarding oil workers’ pay.

The prime minister said KPC did not plan to cut its workers’ wages or their end of service indemnities. But he added that the company had decided to reduce future pay rises in line with spending cuts adopted in other state organisations. He said that average monthly pay for oil sector staff in Kuwait was around $22,000, compared with about $4,200 for civil servants. Saleh said that KPC planned to cut the annual pay rise received by its staff from 7.5 percent of their basic salary to 5.0 percent.

Kuwait posted budget windfalls for 16 consecutive fiscal years due to high oil prices but posted a budget deficit in the 2015/2016 year which ended March 31. For the 2016-17 fiscal year, it projects a record deficit of $38 billion, equivalent to 30 percent of gross domestic product. Kuwait has liberalised the price of diesel and kerosene and is considering cutting subsidies on other services. But it is facing difficulties in cutting spending which has increased more than fourfold since 2006, mostly on wages and subsidies.

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