Reuters International

By Alexis Akwagyiram and Felix Onuah

ABUJA (Reuters) - A Nigerian union representing oil workers has suspended a strike that some feared would lead to fuel shortages and disrupt crude production, one of its leaders said on Wednesday.

The strike by about 10,000 members of the Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), which includes refinery workers and office staff, began on Thursday over issues that include oil sector reforms and pay.

A prolonged drop in global crude prices and a spate of attacks by militants on oil and gas facilities in the southern Niger Delta region briefly pushed oil production to 30-year lows, hitting the economy hard over the past few months.

Last week the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) cautioned people against panic buying. There have been no signs of fuel shortages so far.

The strike "has been suspended in the early hours of today, around 04:00 BST," said Lumumba Okugbawa, PENGASSAN acting general secretary, adding that "some understandings" had been reached.

Talks with government officials, including the oil minister, the labour minister and NNPC's new group managing director, were held on Monday and Tuesday. The agreement to suspend the strike was reached in the early hours of Wednesday.

"The suspension is not just on paper. People have returned to work," said NNPC spokesman Garba Deen Muhammad.

A communique issued after the meeting and seen by Reuters shows that issues discussed included joint venture funding and cash call arrears, which the union said had stalled the creation of new jobs and investment in the sector.

Cash calls are the government's financial obligations to joint venture projects between NNPC and international and local oil companies.

The communique stated that "the meeting was satisfied on the new model of the new joint venture arrangement" put in place by the petroleum ministry and NNPC as well as the payment structure "to pay off the arrears of the old joint venture cash calls inherited by the new government".

Reforms to be carried out once the Petroleum Industry Bill is passed into law were also discussed. The bill to overhaul the industry has been in the works for a decade. It will cover environmental, tax and revenue-sharing rules.

The communique also showed that members of the Nigeria Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) took part in the talks and signed up to the agreement, even though NUPENG members had worked during the PENGASSAN strike.

(Editing by David Goodman/Ruth Pitchford)

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