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Oil workers in Iraq's Kirkuk threaten strike

by Staff Writers
Kirkuk, Iraq (AFP) Feb 12, 2011
Some 300 day workers at Iraq's state-owned North Oil Company on Saturday warned they would go on strike if their work conditions did not improve, threatening oil production that is the lifeline of the country's economy.

"We are demonstrating peacefully for our rights, but if the management of the NOC does not meet our demands we have several means to pressure them, including a strike," said Jamal Abdel Jabbar, head of the oil workers union in Iraq's northern oil hub of Kirkuk.

If it goes ahead, the strike will be the first since the overthrow of Saddam Hussein in the US-led invasion in 2003. The company employs 15,000 people, including 3,700 day workers, who Jabbar said would join in a strike.

"It is certain that oil production will be affected if more than 3,000 employees in the operations department, production, extraction and transportation stop work," he said, without giving a timeframe for any strike.

"There are employees at NOC who earn $2,000 per month, while temporary workers earn 250,000 dinars ($210 dollars)," he said.

NOC officials contacted by AFP declined to comment.

The protesters said they were inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, where president Hosni Mubarak resigned on Friday following nationwide protests.

"We are pleased with the results of events in Tunisia and Egypt," said Farhad Khaled Jabbar, one of the protesters.

"They (the government) should pay attention and respond to our demands, otherwise we will stop work and it is we who produce the wealth of this country, which ends up in the pockets of officials and MPs," he said.

"We are like camels that carry the gold, but are fed thorns."

Oil exports account for the lion's share of Iraq's revenues.

Last year, Kirkuk exported 150 million barrels of oil, earning $11.5 billion. Production from Kirkuk is exported through a pipeline linked to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.

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