Venezuelan Oil Workers Clash with Police Over Collective Contract

Venezuela's Energy Minister assured that the collective contract for oil workers, which has been under negotiation since April, would be finalised in the next two weeks after clashes between oil workers and police in Anzoátegui state on Thursday left several people injured.

Caracas, September 29, 2007, ( – Venezuela's Energy Minister and president of the state owned oil company PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, assured that the collective contract for oil workers, which has been under negotiation since April, would be finalised in the next two weeks after clashes between oil workers and police in Anzoátegui state on Thursday left several people injured.

Some 150 workers from the oil refinery of Puerto La Cruz, together with workers from the Jose Industrial Complex were marching to the offices of the Venezuelan Oil Corporation (CVP) in Urbaneja municipality to present a document to Ramirez, who was meeting with a negotiating commission of the United Oil Workers Federation of Venezuela (FUTPV), when they were intercepted by Immediate Response Group – Police Force of Anzoátegui.

In the resulting clashes, which lasted three hours, 40 workers were arrested and three were injured, including Richard Querecuto, who was shot in the left shoulder. A bus carrying passengers was also attacked by police who launched a tear gas bomb inside causing panic and asphyxiation. With news of the police repression 4,000 workers from Petroanzoátegui, Petrocedeño, and the project San Cristóbal immediately stopped work.

Anzoategui State Governor Tarek William Saab, condemned the police violence. To the independent media website he issued a statement on Saturday, in which he stated, "We will not allow the citizens in the state of Anzoategui are battered in any way." He went on to say, "If the Anzoategui police are involved in this situation, they will be punished with severity and turned over to the justice system."

A statement released by PDVSA also condemned the violence and called for an investigation of the incident. "Petróleos de Venezuela S. A. [PDVSA] solicits an exhaustive investigation of the lamentable acts that occurred in the morning of 27th of September, adjacent to the administrative offices of the Corporación Venezolana de Petróleo, located in municipality Urbaneja of the state of Anzoátegui, where the police confronted a group of workers they encountered, resulting in injuries of a number of workers and one functionary of the security force."

The statement also informed that PDVSA had intervened to secure the immediate release of 22 oil workers arrested by the police and were working to free the remaining arrestees and affirmed that PDVSA would assume all medical costs for those injured.

Ramirez said the government and the oil industry are not against the oil workers, on the contrary, they are orienting their efforts to advance the interests of oil workers in terms of social security, education, and housing. "We are working for an agreement that is good for workers and good for the state," Ramirez added.

However, in a statement in solidarity with the oil workers of Anzoátegui, repudiating the police violence, the Federation of Workers UNT-Zulia said, "We consider that this situation has been generated by the intransigence of the state company PDVSA that has drawn out the discussion over the contract for months, offered conditions below the aspirations of the workers and arbitrarily imposed a junta [the FUTPV negotiating commission] to discuss the contract without having been elected by the workers."

The FUTPV is an attempt to unite Venezuela's oil workers who are currently divided into four separate federations and hundreds of individual unions, into a single united federation. However, the leadership is provisional and elections have not taken place yet.

The Unitary Revolutionary Autonomous Class Current (C-CURA), which claims to represent more than 35,000 of the 60,000 oil workers in Venezuela after gaining control of the largest oil workers federation, Fedepetrol, (previously controlled by Carlos Ortega, who led the December 2002 illegal shut-down and sabotage of the oil industry), says it does not recognise the legitimacy of the FUTPV negotiating commission and is raising a separate set of demands over the collective contract, such as a daily salary increase of 30,000 Bs. (US$12), the full incorporation of workers from oil service companies nationalised in May, and the equalization of payments for retired workers.

The negotiating commission of the FUTPV presented a new document calling for the renegotiation of the collective contract every two years, as opposed to every three years, as originally proposed by PDVSA management, a daily salary increase of 25,000 Bs. (US$10), a 100% increase in pensions for retired workers, total coverage for funeral costs of oil workers, the incorporation of 5.5% disabled people into the workforce, and an increase to the electronic food card (a scheme that helps oil workers pay for food), to the value of 1.7 million Bs. (US$680) a month. PDVSA's original offer consisted of an increase of 7,000 Bs (US$3) per day and an additional increase of 1,000 Bs. (US$0.45), the following year.

C-CURA is calling for a change in the negotiating commission and for immediate elections within FUTPV, otherwise they say they will "radicalize" their actions. However, similar calls by C-CURA and Fedepetrol for radical actions and a general stoppage to "paralyze" the oil industry at "zero hour" on August 6 mobilized less than 1,500 workers throughout the country.

After widespread coverage and promotion of "zero hour" in the opposition private media, the dispute took on a political dimension, with other sectors of oil workers and urban poor subsequently rallying in "defense" of PDVSA.

The statement by the Federation of Workers UNT-Zulia said yesterday, "We think that some of these situations [in the oil industry] are a result of a manouvre by sectors of the rightwing within Chavismo [Chavez supporters], aimed at generating situations of conflict in the country to propagate destabilisation of the process of constitutional reform."

However, the workers in Anzoátegui rejected this claim with a banner which read,
"We are not violent protesters [guarimberos], we are oil workers." (A guarimba is an orchestrated protest aimed at provoking violence to achieve political aims.)

José Bodas, secretary general of Fedepetrol-Anzoátegui and member of C-CURA, said he held Tarek William Saab, the governor of the state of Anzoátegui, responsible for the actions of the police who are under his jurisdiction as four hundred oil workers rallied yesterday to demand the resignation of Robert Aranguren, the chief of police in Anzoátegui.

Polianzoátegui denied responsibility for the shooting, however, saying a third party must have been responsible as the bullet with which Querecuto was shot came from a 9mm pistol, different to the standard issue .38 Smith & Wesson carried by the police.

Saab, who described the incident as "lamentable," affirmed that an investigation was being carried out to determine who was responsible for the shooting.

In response to the demands raised by the workers in Anzoátegui, Ramirez agreed that the collective contract would be negotiated every two years, that retired oil workers would receive increased payments, and that a massive plan of constructing housing for oil workers would be implemented. Ramirez also affirmed that PDVSA would increase the monthly value of the food card and guaranteed the payment of workplace insurance for workers in the companies taken over by PDVSA in May. However, he said other demands raised by the workers were yet to be assessed.

The oil workers in Anzoátegui have announced that they will continue their protests in the streets and remain in a state of alert, despite the promises from Ramirez for the finalization of an improved collective contract within the next two weeks.

See also: Pdvsa, Oil Workers Initial Collective Agreement