Kuwaiti oil workers will go ahead with a strike starting on Sunday, their union head said, rejecting an offer from the state oil company to suspend the implementation of public sector pay reforms. Kuwait Petroleum Corporation (KPC) and its subsidiaries agreed to temporarily freeze a planned government overhaul of the payroll system and seek a compromise through a joint committee with the workers union, said the spokesman for Kuwait’s oil sector, Sheikh Talal al-Khaled al-Sabah. The union head, Saif al-Qahtani, called that “playing with words.”
“The KPC statement is talking about ‘freezing’ the decisions, while our demand is to cancel them,” Qahtani, head of the Oil and Petrochemical Industries Workers Confederation, told Reuters. “The strike is still on and on time.” The union has not said how long the strike, involving thousands of workers at state-owned oil, gas and petrochemical companies, would last. Workers fear the payroll overhaul would reduce salaries and affect other benefits.
Kuwait National Petroleum Company (KNPC), a subsidiary of KPC and one of five state-owned companies that would be affected, has said there is a contingency strategy to ensure production and exports would not be affected. KPC called on the unions to work with it to find a way out of the dispute, and warned that under Kuwaiti laws it was illegal to obstruct work in public facilities in areas such as oil, gas and petrochemicals.
“There is no doubt that the commotion contains a direct and major threat to the stability of the oil sector which represents the main economic artery for the country’s revenues and is the source of its wealth and prosperity,” the statement said. It said that anyone inciting a work stoppage risked “subjecting himself to legal questioning.” Other firms whose workers plan to join the strike include Kuwait Oil Company, Kuwait Oil Tanker Company, Equate Petrochemical Industries Company and Kuwait Gulf Oil Company.
Strikes are relatively common among public sector workers in Kuwait – one of the world’s richest countries per capita – compared to other Gulf states such as the United Arab Emirates, where unions are banned. OPEC-member Kuwait pumps three million barrels of crude per day and has three refineries with a combined capacity of 930,000 bpd.