April 2, 2011 – By Phal Gualbert Mezui Ndong
LIBREVILLE (Reuters) - Striking oil workers in Gabon stopped the African country's estimated 240,000 barrels of daily crude oil production, a union official told Reuters on Saturday.
"We can confirm tonight that all production has been halted," said Arnaud Engandji, spokesman for the ONEP oil workers' union, which wants more local workers in the sector.
Gabon is Africa's seventh largest oil producer.
The ONEP union, which represents about 4,000 of the central African country's 5,000 oil workers and has a long history of grievances over pay and local hiring practices, began the strike on Friday after talks over boosting local hiring requirements broke down.
Gabon's government late last year agreed to trade union demands to limit foreign workers in its oil sector to 10 percent and to require all executive posts to be held by Gabonese, but never ratified the law.
President Ali Bongo Odimba said last week he supported "Carbonization" of the oil sector, but said the effort must proceed carefully to ensure the industry remained competitive.
Following the start of the strike, residents of the two main cities of Libreville and Port Gentil rushed to filling stations amid talk that supplies could dry up.
The government on Friday urged union leaders to resume talks and to end the strike, but the union said it would continue the strike until its demands were met.
Gabon's oil sector is one of Africa's most mature but has been in steady decline since output peaked at about 370,000 bpd in 1997. Energy revenues account for about 40 percent of the country's budget, and the government is pushing to revitalize the sector and diversify its economy.
Major players in Gabon's oil sector include France's Total <TOTF.PA>, Shell <RDSa.L> and Tullow <TLW.L>. Total and Shell confirmed on Friday they were shutting down their fields as a result of the strike.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Matthew Jones)