Anglo-Dutch oil giant Shell held a closed, online annual general meeting yesterday because of the coronavirus crisis. IndustriALL submitted questions to the company on its treatment of contract workers in resource-rich developing countries.
On 13 May, Shell held an online shareholder’s engagement meeting ahead of the 19 May AGM. Shareholders were invited to submit questions two weeks before the engagement meeting.
Shell responded to questions by email instead of at the public meeting.
IndustriALL Global Union has ongoing concerns about conditions at Shell workplaces around the world, and has consistently campaigned against the very high level of casualisation at Shell.
IndustriALL has previously raised questions and also joined demonstrations outside the Shell AGMs in The Hague in 2018 and 2019.
IndustriALL’s primary concern is Shell’s behaviour in resource-rich developing countries, where the company’s large footprint perverts the development of the local economy and entrenches an extractive industry that is heavily reliant on foreign companies.
A prime example is Nigeria, where Shell’s presence has led to decades of environmental degradation, corruption, human rights abuses and union busting.
Nigerian unions call for the sustainable industrialisation of their country, and a programme of beneficiation that will see the country’s oil wealth raise standards of living for everyone.
But 82 per cent of Shell’s workers are contract workers who live in poverty with no job security, poor healthcare and little regard for health and safety.
Workers who attempt to unionise, raise health and safety issues or report injuries are dismissed. Because Shell is the largest company in the Nigerian oil sector, its actions set a precedent, and many other companies in the sector show similar behaviour.
Unions in Nigeria report numerous cases of workers dying or becoming permanently disabled because they have been too afraid to raise safety concerns.
Last year, IndustriALL reported Shell’s treatment of contract workers to the UN Human Rights Council.
IndustriALL’s primary demand is that Shell engage in social dialogue at a global level with workers’ representatives. So far, Shell has categorically refused the offer of international dialogue.
In questions submitted ahead of the AGM, IndustriALL raised the contradictions between the principles that Shell claims to adhere to in publications like its Sustainability Report, and well-documented evidence that Shell fails to meet these standards. IndustriALL submitted the following questions:
1. Why Shell does not exercise due diligence on contractors to ensure that they are socially responsible?
2. Why Shell does not control and provide proper health insurance for all their workers and contractors?
3. Will a representative of Shell agree to meet with IndustriALL Global Union to establish dialogue with the aim of addressing and resolving these violations?
Energy director Diana Junquera Curiel said: ‘We have consistently raised these issues with Shell, and we have never had an adequate response. However, there is real suffering at Shell workplaces, and we are determined to change this. We remain committed to dialogue and working with Shell to resolve these issues.’
Only last month, the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN) suspended planned industrial action after 21 Exxon Mobil Corp. employees were freed after being arrested and then quarantined for violating coronavirus-related movement restrictions.
The governor of southern oil hub Rivers State, Nyesom Wike, said Exxon Mobil workers were arrested after entering the state from neighbouring Akwa Ibom State in violation of an executive order restricting movement into the state as part of measures imposed last month.
He said 22 workers, whose coronavirus status was unknown, were quarantined in line with relevant health protocols and would be charged in court.
But Wike’s spokesman, Simeon Nwakaudu, issued a statement that said the workers were all released without charge ‘following interventions by well-meaning Nigerians.’
The union said its statement referred to 21 Exxon Mobil workers who were union members, whereas Rivers State included the driver in its tally to total 22 people.
Exxon Mobil declined to comment on the situation.
PENGASSAN said it had instructed its members to withdraw all forms of services relating to crude oil production, refining, distribution and supplies from Monday unless the Exxon Mobil workers were freed.
‘Having achieved the primary demand in our ultimatum, we hereby suspend the planned industrial action,’ PENGASSAN said in a statement.
Port Harcourt, capital of Rivers State, is the hub of the oil industry in Africa’s biggest producer of crude. Sales of crude oil make up about 90% of Nigeria’s foreign exchange earnings.
Rivers State has recorded two cases of coronavirus so far. Nigeria has 541 confirmed cases nationwide and 19 deaths. The most high profile victim was the president’s chief of staff, Abba Kyari, who died late last month.
Nigeria’s petroleum regulator has ordered oil and gas companies to reduce their offshore workforce and move to 28-day staff rotations, instead of the usual 14 days, to help to curb the spread of the new coronavirus.
PENGASSAN, in its statement, called on the government to ‘guarantee unfettered movement of oil and gas workers on essential services in all territories of the federation’ so they could continue to provide services.
- The National Union of Civil Engineering Construction, Furniture and Wood Works (NUCECFWW) in Nigeria expressed its shock and disappointment this week over a company’s refusal to comply with the government’s directive to shut down all workplaces as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
NUCECFWW President Amechi Asugwuni said that the Dangote Refinery Construction Sites asked thousands of its workers to continue working at the Dangote Lekki Project sites despite a lockdown that forced many workplaces to cease from operating.
Asugwuni, who is also the Vice president, of BWI Africa Middle East Regional Committee, said many of the workers are Nigerians and Indian nationals.
He said that according to reports, one of the Indian workers showed symptoms of COVID-19, raising fears of the virus’ spread among workers.
‘The Dangote Company’s act is not only unfortunate, it is also condemnable. We call on the federal and Lagos state governments and all other relevant agencies to compel the Dangote Lekki Project Management to halt all its operations to protect the health and safety of its workers,’ Asugwuni said.
Asugwuni said that employers that heeded the federal government’s COVID-19 directives, such as observing physical and social distancing, and temporary workplace closures, should be commended.
He stressed that the federal government’s directives were in line with the advice given by the Nigeria Employers Consultative Association (NECA).
On the 30th of March, the federal government decided to put Abuja and Lagos, Africa’s most populated cities with more than 20 million people, under a two-week total lockdown.
- The Nigerian Road Transport and Trade Sector Coalition which comprises of Transport Unions and Associations, has called for urgent revamp of moribund mass transit vehicles in the country in the face of challenges prompted by Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The coalition also expressed worry that the dilapidated state of public transportation, especially in the urban, cities did not encourage social distancing, one of the principal measures for fighting the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr Ken Ukaoha, the President, National Association of Nigerian Traders (NANTS), made the call on Monday in Abuja on behalf of the coalition through its letter addressed to President Muhammadu Buhari and copied to relevant sectors.
Regrettably, he said, while discussions for the specification of the vehicles was ongoing to facilitate effective choice of model, HYUNDAI vehicles were suddenly procured by some selfish government officials to the uttermost shock of the transport unions.
He warned: ‘Many of those vehicles turned out to be faulty, dis-functional and useless right from take-off. The result is that although the key transport unions in the country were committed to invest thereupon, many of the vehicles packed up in the most shameful manner even at the point of commissioning.
‘While the citizens are in dire need of transportation services to match up with the current increase in population especially in the urban cities, the over N4.2 billion investments thereupon (as at then) has been condemned.
‘It does not make any economic sense watching these vehicles parked in places where they are rusting away while the masses suffer in the hands of “one chance operators” and insecurity consequences,’ he said.