Gabon: Oil, Utilities Workers Strike over COVID-19 Measures

Three labour unions in Gabon on Tuesday began a nationwide strike action in protest against COVID-19 restrictions and the cost of PCR tests.

The unions — which included  the National Syndicate of Workers of the Water and Electricity Sector (SYNTEE), the Syndicate of Employees and Ex-employees of Petroleum and Annex Activities (SEERPAC) and the National Organisation of Petroleum Employees (ONEP) — had in December 2021 threatened to shut down water, gas, petrol and electricity supplies in the country if their demands were not met.

On January 9, the three unions in a joint statement informed the Gabonese government they would embark on the strike on Tuesday, January 11, if the government continued its silence on their demands.

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“We hereby inform you of the launch of an unlimited general strike which will cover all companies in oil and related activities, water and electricity sectors throughout the national territory,” said a statement signed by the striking trade unions.

René Pierre Mbang Evouna, the general secretary of Syntee +, said since the strike notice was first issued in December, the government was yet to contact labour for dialogue “with a view to finding solutions to our specifications.” 

Gabon, an OPEC member produces about 200,000 barrels of crude oil per day. ONEP, the oil workers’ union, has recurrent standoffs with the government which have paralyzed the economy in the past.

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The state receives 60% of its budget from oil revenues.

Compared with neighboring Central African countries, Gabon has adopted the most restrictive measures against COVID-19. Public spaces are only open to vaccinated or PCR-negative individuals, and unvaccinated individuals are subject to a curfew from 9pm to 5am.

Unvaccinated travelers need to show a negative test when traveling between Libreville and other parts of the country.

The striking unions have made several demands, such as eliminating the health pass and lowering PCR test costs, which are set at 20,000 CFA francs ($34.77) or 50,000 CFA francs ($86.92) for a same-day result.

Gabon has administered enough vaccine doses to cover about 13% of its approximately 2 million population. Since the pandemic began, Gabon has reported 43,939 infections and 295 deaths.

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