UPDATE 2-Striking Gabon workers shut down oilfields

* Half of Gabon’s output seen shut Friday

* Workers aim to halt remaining output within 48 hours

* Strikers seeking more local hiring in energy sector

(Adds Total confirmation, oil prices)

By Phal Gualbert Mezui Ndong

LIBREVILLE, April 1 (Reuters) – Striking workers in central
African oil exporter Gabon are shutting down the nation’s
oilfields to press for more local hiring in the sector, a union
official said on Friday.
Some 50 percent of the country’s 220,000-240,000 barrels of
daily crude oil output will be shut by the end of the day, with
the rest scheduled to be halted within 48 hours, Guy-Roger Aurat
Reteno, secretary general of the ONEP union said.

“Since midnight we started to shut down Gabon’s oilfields.
The shutdown procedures are ongoing,” he told Reuters by
telephone, adding distribution of fuel in the country was also
paralysed.

French oil major Total (TOTF.PA: Quote, Profile, Research), one of Gabon’s biggest oil
producers, confirmed on Friday it had stopped oil production due
to the strike. Total’s output averaged 67,000 barrels per day
(bpd) in 2010. [ID:nLDE7301KG]

U.S. oil prices (CLc1: Quote, Profile, Research) rose on Friday. [O/R]

Gabon’s oil sector is one of the continent’s most mature and
has been in steady decline since output peaked at around 370,000
bpd in 1997. Energy revenues account for about 40 percent of the
country’s budget.

The ONEP union represents about 4,000 of the country’s 5,000
oil workers, and has a long history of grievances over pay and
local hiring practices.

Gabon’s government late last year agreed to trade union
demands to limit foreign workers in its oil sector to 10 percent
and require all executive posts to be held by Gabonese, a
decision the government has since rowed back from amid concerns
it could slash foreign investment.

President Ali Bongo Odimba said this week he supported
“gabonisation” of the oil sector, but said the effort must
proceed carefully to ensure the industry remained competitive.

ONEP, which says its strike will continue indefinitely, says
more than 83 percent of management positions in the oil sector
are held by foreigners.

A government official was not immediately available to
comment on Friday.

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

Gabon, one of a handful of sub-Saharan African countries
with a Eurobond (362420AA9=RRPS: Quote, Profile, Research), has sought to diversify its
oil-dependent economy while also soliciting the interest of oil
companies to broaden their exploration efforts to revive the
declining sector.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Jon Boyle and James
Jukwey)

UPDATE 2-Striking Gabon workers shut down oilfields