CHANTING ‘People’s oil for the people not for the thieves!’ hundreds of workers protested against the South Oil Company in Iraq on 19 February 2013, demanding housing, permanent work and payment of delayed benefits.
The protest was organised by the Committee for the Defence of Oil Workers, including IndustriALL Global Union affiliate, and the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU), and follows an earlier similar action on 13 February 2013.
The workers, from the fields of al-Ramlia north and south, al-Berjesia, Gharb al-Karna, and Bab al-Zubair gathered in front of the main door of the South Oil Company in Basra calling for the expulsion of corrupt employees and the dismissal of the company director.
They demanded a meeting with the company director to negotiate the payment of withheld benefits dating back to 2010, 2011 and 2012, the right to housing, permanent job contracts and an end to corruption in the company.
The South Oil Company (SOC), which produces more than 80 per cent of Iraqi oil, is a national company responsible for the oil in the south of Iraq.
As the company director has so far refused to meet with the protestors, they are now requesting a meeting with the management and the government in the coming days to negotiate on the issues.
The protestors have also addressed their demands to the Iraqi Prime Minister.
Some of the workers were subject to threats from company security during the actions.
Meanwhile, on February15, the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) and peace groups marked the tenth anniversary of the worldwide protests against the war on Iraq.
An ICSSI statement said: ‘Today, ten years ago, a global demonstration took place in more than sixty countries around the world, involving millions, to protest against the upcoming war in Iraq.
‘Refusing an illegal war of aggression, protesting against a war for oil, demonstrators firmly rejected the idea a people can be bombed into democracy.
‘Today, ten years after, oil companies are making huge profits in Iraq.
‘While labour rights are not recognised, foreign oil companies have signed 20-year contracts and are benefitting from this denial of the fundamental rights of Iraqi workers.
‘Today, representatives of the Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative (ICSSI) from Italy, UK and France went to ENI, the Italian oil company, to deliver the following letter from Iraqi oil workers, which is also being sent to all foreign oil companies present in Iraq.
An open letter to the international oil
companies operating in Iraq, a decade after the US-UK invasion of Iraq
‘Ten years after the US invasion of Iraq, which was undertaken ostensibly to overthrow the former dictator and to promote human rights and democracy, we see that a more essential, long-term goal was for international oil companies to acquire control over Iraq’s newly privatised oil resources, creating a “liberated” Iraq that would serve as an economic model for a “New Middle East” and spread neo-liberalism throughout the region.
‘The project has been a failure on all fronts. Those who suffer the consequences are Iraq’s citizens. Their country is wracked by violence and mounting sectarian conflict.
‘Their rights are violated. Vital services – water and electricity – are unavailable, while international oil companies receive priority access to these scarce resources, and operate under long-term contracts to develop Iraqi oil fields, that were signed while Iraq was still occupied.
‘All this comes at the expense of Iraq’s national oil companies. It has further aggravated an already troubled relationship between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central Government of Iraq.
‘And, with their narrow focus on increasing production and profits, international oil companies have shown little regard for public accountability or the rights of workers in Iraq.
‘These companies’ frenzied quest to extract ever greater quantities of oil has led to an acceleration of the rampant corruption that now afflicts Iraq.
‘Since the arrival of the companies, bribery and irregular accounting practices have become the norm in the Iraqi oil industry.
‘The companies have not carried out proper planning and resource management but rather are overseeing wasteful policies that deprive future Iraqi generations of their birthright.
‘And, these companies are working without a national Iraqi Labour Law that would protect Iraqi workers’ rights to join unions, bargain collectively, and organise strikes, protests and demonstrations.
‘Their policies punish workers and deny them rights that are internationally recognised and guaranteed in many of the nations in which the international companies are incorporated.
‘Therefore, we strongly urge that all international oil companies operating in Iraq:
‘1 – Respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi people over their natural resources and, noting the lack of legitimacy of their contracts, to relinquish any claims to rights over Iraqi oil.
‘2 – With oil companies now having taken the place of foreign troops in compromising Iraqi sovereignty, set a timetable for their withdrawal, while transferring technology to Iraq’s national oil companies.
‘3 – Stop exacerbating tensions between the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central Government of Iraq, by ceasing to exploit oil until a stable national accord has been achieved, supported by all Iraq’s citizens.
‘4 – Promote transparency in the oil sector in Iraq, by publishing details of all contracts and ensuring Iraqi citizens’ access to information about Iraqi oil resources and their development. This is vital to end the corruption that has become rampant as a result of the presence of international oil companies in Iraq.
‘5 – Support the passage of an Iraqi Labour Law that guarantees all Iraqi workers rights that are in accord with the highest, international standards and that protects their freedom of association and their right to strike.
‘6 – Adopt clear policies to protect the Iraqi environment and agree to utilize appropriate, advanced equipment to monitor the effects of your companies’ activities on the soil, water and air in Iraq.
‘7 – Agree that the security and protection of personnel and equipment in all Iraqi oilfields should be exclusively under the authority of national Iraqi security forces. These responsibilities should not be assigned to private security companies that are based in other nations and that undermine the sovereignty of Iraq.’
‘15th of February 2013.
‘The Iraqi Civil Society Solidarity Initiative, and Iraqi unions: Adnan Al-Saffar for the General Federation of Iraqi Workers (GFIW) and its oil & gas union; Abdulla Malik for the Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU); Abbas Kadhim for the Engineering Professions Union (Electricity Section-Baghdad); Abdullatif Abdul Rahman for the Federation of Salahaddin Unions.’
l The National Union of Iraqi Journalists, on February 28, condemned the arbitrary detention in Baghdad of French journalist Nader Dndon who works for Le Monde Diplomatique.
The union is demanding Iraqi authorities either charge him formally or release him immediately. The NUIJ called on Iraqi security forces to ‘respect’ the constitution of Iraq and stop muddying the political waters.
Reporters Without Borders and Iraqi Press Freedom Observatory wrote to the Iraqi PM calling on him to intervene and secure the release of the French Journalist.
Reporters Without Borders said in a statement on March 1st: ‘Nadir Dendoune, a visiting journalist with French, Australian and Algerian nationality, who was released on bail of 10 million dinars (6,500 euros) on 14 February after 23 days in detention in Baghdad, is still being prevented from leaving Iraq.
‘Why hasn’t he been allowed to return to France?
‘1. First of all, it took 12 days for a Baghdad court to close his case.
‘2. Then his Australian passport and personal effects were returned to him only yesterday (28 February), two days after the case was closed.
‘3. Finally, today, after he had gone through all the airport controls in the presence of the French ambassador and an Australian diplomat and was within minutes of boarding his plane, he was prevented from departing by the aviation and border police, Reporters Without Borders has learned.
‘The reason given? His visa had expired.’
‘It is absurd and Kafkaesque that Dendoune cannot leave Iraq’, Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. ‘After spending three weeks in Iraqi jails and then waiting two weeks for a judge to close the case, he has been prevented from leaving on the grounds that his visa had expired. I am outraged.
‘The Iraqi authorities’ reluctance to let this journalist leave is flagrant and we condemn it with the utmost strength. It is high time this sorry farce came to an end and Dendoune is allowed to recover his freedom.’