Strike halts all Gabon crude oil output – union

* Union seeking increased local hiring in oil sector

* Total, Shell confirm output shut

* Government calls for resumption of talks

By Phal Gualbert Mezui Ndong

LIBREVILLE, April 2 (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
“Gabonisation” 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 revitalise
the sector and diversify its economy.

Major players in Gabon’s oil sector include France’s Total
(TOTF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), Shell (RDSa.L: Quote, Profile, Research) and Tullow (TLW.L: Quote, Profile, Research). 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)

Strike halts all Gabon crude oil output – union