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Venezuelan Private Gas Company Workers Demand Nationalization

Mérida, September 9th 2010 (Venezuelanalysis.com) – Private domestic gas company workers are demanding that their companies be nationalized and converted to worker and community control, alternative Venezuelan website Aporrea reported on Tuesday.

The workers come from a range of gas distribution companies, including Taurogas, Globalgas, Marinagas, Caracasgas, Visagas, Camipa, and Tecnicos de Gas.

According to Aporrea, the workers denounced that the companies were firing anyone who tried to create a union and were also refusing to comply with rulings made by the Labour Ministry.

Workers don’t have collective contracts, and have few safety regulations or equipment, despite working with flammable liquid and having to carry the gas cylinders which weigh 10 kilograms or more each. Workers said the companies forge the safety reports.

One truck driver told Aporrea, “For any kind of drop in sales, they take you off the route and you lose the commissions.”  The driver, who asked to be anonymous, said companies don’t want to take on the cost of transportation, hence the drivers must pay for petrol and for truck repairs, and workers pay for much of their equipment, including uniforms, gloves and boots.

Further, the employers boast of friendships with the inspectors and claim to have them under their control.

Spokespeople for the workers also told Aporrea that the employers have advantageous relationships with the state owned company PDVSA Gas. The government subsidises over half the cost of each gas cylinder, and one year of such subsidies would cover the value of the companies, according to the workers.

In a meeting of workers from the gas companies based in Caracas and Miranda state, workers denounced bureaucratic elements within PDVSA Gas who wouldn’t meet with the workers and met with the companies behind closed doors.

Workers demanded that such meetings have worker presence so they can be more transparent.

“They treat us worse than animals, the boss won’t meet with us to discuss a collective contract,” Darwin Segovia, a worker fired from Marinagas, said. “Some workmates have been unfairly fired and the boss says they never worked here,” he added.

Workers said that were the gas companies to be nationalised, their working conditions and salaries would improve.

Vengas and Tropigas, two of Venezuela’s biggest domestic gas companies, were nationalized in 2007 and became PDVSA Gas Comunal. According to workers the conditions in the new state owned company are much better, with more monthly food tickets, more holidays, and time off for marriage and child birth as well as vacation. Workers receive bonuses for children less than 12 years of age, the birth of a child, marriage, and school and also payment for childcare for children under 5, and insurance, among other benefits.

However Aporrea reports that informants have told company managers of a battle for expropriation and as a result the managers have started to “de-capitalise”, making trucks and other equipment disappear, supposedly into other countries.

As a result, workers are requesting tight surveillance in the case of nationalization. One worker told Aporrea that the boss should also be prohibited from travelling. “He already goes to Colombia every weekend... we don’t want him take all the resources [machinery and company capital] out of the country,” said the worker.

Workers also suggested that there be no compensation for the companies if they are nationalized, because they say the companies have already profited enough from the subsidies without complying with any conditions.

In 2007 there were gas shortages in some states in Venezuela. Private media blamed workers for the shortages, while workers blamed the management of the two companies that have since been nationalised, Vengas and Tropigas.

As a result, and because of unpaid salaries and bad work conditions, workers requested the expropriation of those companies, which then took place on 3 September 2007. However, later, Marea Socialista reported that some of the managers of those two companies were working for the new PDVSA Gas Comunal and causing similar problems of shortages.

On the other hand, since the beginning of this year PDVSA Gas Comunal has started creating gas distribution networks in collaboration with organised communities, education missions, and Bolivarian National Militia, with the idea that they more effectively prevent the speculative prices people are charged for the gas cylinders.

Venezuela has 185.2 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, the ninth largest in the world, according to the most recent announcements by the Energy Ministry. Almost all houses in Venezuela depend on gas cylinders for their gas supply, but the government has said it is aiming for 3 million homes to have piped natural gas by 2016. PDVSA Gas is carrying out gas explorations in partnership with Spain’s Repsol YPF and Italy’s Eni.

Published on Sep 10th 2010 at 9.20am