Iraqi union leaders representing tens of thousands of oil workers across southern Iraq are optimistic that a threatened strike last week has won significant concessions from the US-backed government.
The Iraqi Federation of Oil Unions (IFOU) represents 26,000 workers in the provinces of Basra, Dhi Qar, Maysan and al-Muthanna. The union has organised three strikes since 2003 which paralysed the oil industry, halting all Iraqi oil exports.
A strike called for 14 May was halted by last-minute negotiations with Iraqi prime minister Nuri al-Maliki.
One of the key issues in the dispute was the controversial new oil law being debated by the Iraqi parliament. The law allows multinational companies to grab huge profits by developing Iraq’s huge untapped oilfields under contracts lasting up to 30 years.
The IFOU has long campaigned against the sell-off, organising two conferences in Basra last year in protest at the US-backed government’s plans. Hassan Jumaa Awad, president of the union said, “The oil law does not represent the aspirations of the Iraqi people.”
It will let the foreign oil companies into the oil sector and enact privatisation under so-called production sharing agreements.
He appealed for solidarity from the international trade union movement in defeating the law. 'The federation calls on all unions in the world to support our demands and to put pressure on governments and the oil companies not to enter the Iraqi oil fields.”
The union is not alone in its condemnation of the draft oil law. Opponents of the law also include all of Iraq’s other trade unions, a number of political parties, and a group of over 60 senior Iraqi oil experts.
On 5 May union negotiators sent a letter to Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki listing the demands of the coming strike which included a call for the law to be submitted to the union for revision.
The union is also demanding improvements in pay and conditions, government measures to tackle rising prices and medical treatment for oil workers, particularly those in areas affected by the use of cancer-causing Depleted Uranium weapons.
Union negotiators said last week that Al-Maliki “clearly agreed” to their demands and promised further meetings between representatives from his office, the Ministry of Oil, the Southern Oil Company and the IFOU.