In April 2011 a four-day strike by the National Oil Workers Union (l'Organisation Nationale des Employés du Pétrole, ONEP) caused severe disruptions to oil production across Gabon and cost the government an estimated CFA59bn (€88.5m). Total and Shell’s operations were completely shut down and Tullow Oil experienced severe disruptions. After negotiations broke down again in November, the ramifications of a possible strike reverberated around the world. Oil prices rose to over $120 a barrel on the threat of a production halt in Gabon. ONEP’s principle demand was to raise the proportion of Gabonese nationals working in the energy industry. The union claimed the government has not respected the pact it signed in 2010 regarding the “Gabonisation” of the petroleum sector workforce.
GABONISATION: The Gabonisation policy of the government, which was signed in 2010 but never ratified into law, requires 90% of all workers in the petroleum sector to be Gabonese nationals. This has been a significant challenge for IOCs and oil service companies operating in Gabon, as they have found it difficult to find qualified local workers. “While we understand and support the government’s desire to include more Gabonese nationals in the oil sector, it can be difficult to find qualified local workers in specific technical areas,” Rodney J MacAlister, the general manager of Vaalco Gabon, told OBG.
Workers in the formal sector are well organised and enjoy strong labour rights, but there is a large structural imbalance in the local labour market. Many Gabonese do not have the technical skills or training necessary for jobs on production rigs in exploration. Consequently, it has been a challenge for international oil companies (IOCs) operating locally to comply with the government’s Gabonisation regulation.
INVESTMENT RISK: Oil companies interested in investing in Gabon are increasingly looking at the government’s Gabonisation policy as an investment risk that they must consider along with other factors like royalty rates. “The Gabonese energy sector has suffered from the restriction on hiring expats in oil projects. There are simply not enough Gabonese workers with the necessary skills,” Alexandre Maari, the managing director at Petrogas Worldwide Services, told OBG.
Companies are also uncertain about the impact of the new hydrocarbons code, which has yet to be released. The employment regulations specified in the new hydrocarbons code could pose more stringent demands on the workers and management of IOCs.
EDUCATION PARTNERSHIPS: The government is working to implement programmes that will address the structural imbalances in the Gabonese labour market. In addition to investments in primary education, the government is looking to partnerships with the private sector to provide access to relevant training.
In March 2010 the Institute of Oil and Gas was created through a partnership between the Gabonese government, the French Petroleum Institute, and a number of major players in Gabon’s oil and gas industry. With an endowment of $12m, the institute, once fully operational, will train 60 students a year in exploration, extraction, refining and commercialisation.
In November 2011 the school graduated its first class of 13 students, nine of whom were immediately hired by Total Gabon. Construction of the school’s permanent site is set to begin shortly in the city of Port-Gentil, the centre of the country’s oil industry. Another public-private partnership in the oil sector is the Professional Specialisation Centre (Centre de spé cialisation professionnelle, CSP) in Port-Gentil. The CSP trains 30 young Gabonese a year in applied technical skills like instrumentation and mechanics.
CONTINUED CHALLENGES: While the education initiatives by the government will alleviate some of the problems IOCs have finding qualified local workers, current programme capacity could be strained if investment increases and offshore blocks are opened for development. Without investment in education and improvements to curricula, the lack of qualified workers will continue to pose a challenge to the industry.
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