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Nigerian Oil Union to Hold Meeting on Safety at Work

Nigerian oil unions representing thousands of oil workers will hold a meeting to discuss their members' safety and whether its safe for them to go to work at individual companies, a union president said. The meeting comes after a recent wave of attacks on oil facilities by militants.

Leaders of the white-collar Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria, or Pengassan, and the blue-collar National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas workers, or Nupeng, will meet to discuss safety issues, said Nupeng President Peter Akpatason.

Akpatason said oil companies working in Nigeria, Africa's biggest oil producer, had stepped up security measures following the abduction of four foreign oil workers in January but more measures were needed. "We don't think there have been any big, meaningful improvements," he said, ahead of Monday's meeting in Lagos. The unions have held meetings before over worker safety and not taken any actions.

The meeting comes days after the militant group the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, or MEND, launched new attacks on a handful of oil facilities - leaving 19% of Nigeria's output unavailable to world markets - and kidnapped nine more oil workers. The group, which also kidnapped the four oil workers in January, has said it is aiming to cut 30% of Nigeria's oil exports in February.

Also MEND said it planned to widen its attacks to the capital Abuja, in central Nigeria, and to target international oil tankers coming into the West African nation's waters to load crude oil. MEND has demanded more control over oil resources in the volatile and impoverished Niger Delta, in the south of the country, where nearly all Nigeria's oil is produced.

Nigeria's two oil unions have held joint meetings in the past over worker safety issues but have never agreed to a widespread walkout, Akpatason said. "But we have had situations (in the past) that workers did not go to work for some individual companies," he said.

The unions represent thousands of oil workers, with Nupeng alone counting around 50,000 members.

Royal Dutch Shell PLC, which accounts for almost half of Nigeria's daily production of 2.4 million barrels-a-day, has borne the brunt of the recent attacks. The company said late Sunday about 455,000 barrels-a-day of production wasn't making its way into global markets after an attack closed its Forcados oil loading facility. Shell also shut output from the nearby EA field, which produces about 115,000 barrels-a-day, as a precaution.

Nine foreign oil workers of U.S oil services firm Willbros Group, under contract with Shell, were abducted in Saturday's attacks.

MEND said it launched Saturday's attacks after military raids earlier last week in Delta state. For their part, the government said the raids were aimed at rooting out militants suspected of stealing crude oil, a lucrative business that has often fueled a cycle of violence in Nigeria in which stolen crude is used to buy weapons.

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Posted 23/02/06

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