In Iraq’s fields of black gold, thousands lose livelihoods

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Mohammed Haider is among thousands of workers in Iraq’s oil sector laid off this year. (Reuters)
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Iraqi workers have been forced to take unpaid leave or been laid off completely as energy firms cut costs because of plunging oil prices. (AFP)
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Updated 06 June 2020

In Iraq’s fields of black gold, thousands lose livelihoods

  • Iraq has pledged to cut nearly a million barrels of oil production per day (bpd) in line with OPEC cuts

BAGHDAD: Mohammed Haider, a security worker in Iraq’s southern oilfields, thought he was safe after signing a new one-year contract to guard oil facilities. Three days later, he was out of a job.

“I got laid off. They threw us out on the pavement,” the 38-year-old said, speaking as he protested outside the Basra Oil Company headquarters, the national partner for foreign companies.

Haider had been hired to drive vehicles for a British security firm around the giant West Qurna 1 oilfield that produces hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude each day — part of OPEC member Iraq’s principal source of wealth.

He now spends his days at home or searching for jobs that are hard to come by in a crisis-hit economy.

“I can’t even fall back on taxi-driving work. The curfew because of coronavirus means I’d get arrested for driving around illegally,” he said later at his home.

Haider is one of thousands of workers in Iraq’s oil sector who were laid off this year after a fall in oil prices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who struggle to find any other source of income.

Iraq in March asked oil companies to cut their budgets by 30 percent because of plummeting oil prices. Energy companies in the south responded by cutting costs. Subcontractors, including security, construction and transport firms, let thousands of workers go, according to local authorities.

“Of about 80,000 Iraqis working in the oilfields, some 10,000 to 15,000 are now out of work,” said Mohammed Ibadi, a local government official in Basra province, where most of the southern fields are located.

Iraqi workers had been forced to take unpaid leave or had been laid off completely, mostly by subcontractors, he said.

The British security firm that employed Haider declined to comment. 

Ibadi’s office received dozens of complaints from workers who asked Iraqi authorities to sanction companies that do not comply with contractual termination terms. The local authorities negotiated 50 percent and 25 percent salaries for four months for some 2,000 workers who had been laid off, he said.

Khalid Hamza, associate director of the Basra Oil Company, said the government body would not accept the arbitrary termination of local staff.

“We particularly need to protect the jobs of the local population,” he said.

Iraq has pledged to cut nearly a million barrels of oil production per day (bpd) in line with OPEC cuts. Its exports stood at 3.2 million bpd in May. The cuts have slashed state revenue, of which it makes up more than 90 percent.

The government faces making cuts to public sector pay — a move that would further anger impatient Iraqis who staged protests last year against alleged government corruption and lack of jobs.

Ibadi fears the economic and social crisis will worsen as the pandemic hits Iraq harder.

With most jobs in Basra linked to the energy industry, it is near impossible for workers like Haider to find an alternative source of income.

The father of three, who worked for five years as a driver for the British company, subcontracted by an American oil corporation, is ready to take on any job to provide for his family.

Haider fears that he might no longer be able to cover school or medical costs.

“I wish the company would take me back, even for half my wages,” he said. 


Saudi Arabia’s 6-point plan to jumpstart global economy

Updated 18 min 33 sec ago

Saudi Arabia’s 6-point plan to jumpstart global economy

  • Policy recommendations to G20 aim to counter effects of pandemic

DUBAI: Saudi Arabia, in its capacity as president of the G20 group of nations, has unveiled a six-point business plan to jump start the global economy out of the recession brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Yousef Al-Benyan, the chairman of the B20 business group within the G20, told a webinar from Riyadh that the response to the pandemic -— including the injection of $5 trillion into the global economy — had been “reassuring.”

But he warned that the leading economies of the world had to continue to work together to mitigate the effects of global lockdowns and to address the possibility of a “second wave” of the disease.

“Cooperation and collaboration between governments, global governance institutions and businesses is vital for an effective and timely resolution of this multi-dimensional contagion transcending borders,” Al-Benyan said.

“The B20 is strongly of the view there is no alternative to global cooperation, collaboration and consensus to tide over a multi-dimensional and systemic crisis,” he added.

The six-point plan, contained in a special report to the G20 leadership with input from 750 global business leaders, sets out a series of policy recommendations to counter the effects of the disease which threaten to spark the deepest economic recession in nearly a century.

The document advocates policies to build health resilience, safeguard human capital, and prevent financial instability.

It also promotes measures to free up global supply chains, revive productive economic sectors, and digitize the world economy “responsibly and inclusively.”

In a media question-and-answer session to launch the report, Al-Benyan said that among the top priorities for business leaders were the search for a vaccine against the virus that has killed more than half-a-million people around the world, and the need to reopen global trade routes slammed shut by economic lockdowns.

He said that the G20 response had been speedy and proactive, especially in comparison with the global financial crisis of 2009, but he said that more needed to be done, especially to face the possibility that the disease might surge again. “Now is not the time to celebrate,” he warned.

“Multilateral institutions and mechanisms must be positively leveraged by governments to serve their societies and must be enhanced wherever necessary during and after the pandemic,” he said, highlighting the role of the World Health Organization, the UN and the International Monetary Fund, which have come under attack from some world leaders during the pandemic.

Al-Benyan said that policy responses to the pandemic had been “designed according to each country’s requirements.”

Separately, the governor of the Saudi Arabian Monetary Authority said that it was “too early” to say if the Kingdom’s economy would experience a sharp “V-shape” recovery from pandemic recession.