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Azerbaijani oil workers told to ‘take pay cut or face dismissal’

2 July 2020
Bahar Gas Field. Photo: Greenfields Petroleum

Workers on Azerbaijan’s Bahar and Gum-Deniz oil and gas fields have reportedly been threatened with dismissal if they do not sign contracts with 20% lower salaries. Employees also claimed not to have been paid for the last two months.

Mirvari Gahramanli, the head of the Committee for the Protection of Oilmen’s Rights, a Baku based NGO, said that oil firm Bahar Energy was violating Azerbaijani labour legislation.

Bahar Energy is a subsidiary of Greenfields Petroleum, a Texas-based company registered in the Cayman Islands. Information on the company’s beneficial owners is not publicly available.

The company owns the rights to 80% of the Bahar and Gum-Deniz fields, with the remaining 20% belonging to state oil company SOCAR.

Gahramanli told OC Media that the company’s management had ‘grossly violated’ labour legislation by threatening or dismissing workers and reducing their salaries. 

She added that the delaying payment of salaries for two months was also a violation of labour legislation. 

One employee who asked to remain anonymous confirmed to OC Media that he had not received a salary for May and June. 

He added that salaries were withheld during these months from around 500 low-paid workers.

According to him, employees still came to work during these months despite a downturn in work and were asked to do work that was not in their contract instead. 

He said the management informed him they would not be paid the money they were owed unless they signed the new contracts.

‘They asked us to “help the company”. But did they raise our salaries before when the company was doing well so that now we could “help” it? When SOCAR raised the salaries of their workers by 20%, [Company CEO John Harkins] raised our salaries by only 5%’. 

According to him, about a month ago the management offered to reduce the salaries of the whole personnel, however now they reduce the salaries only for low-paid employees. 

He said that the cuts in salaries only concerned employees low-paid workers with salaries of up to ₼1,400 ($820), while personnel those earning higher wages were not facing a pay cut.  

‘Now they also don’t let us work in night shifts which we did before to be able to earn extra money’, he said. 

‘The contracts that they want us to sign are not sealed’, he added. ‘That means they can put a seal whenever they want, which is a very gross violation of the law.’  

‘The workers live and work in fear and danger’, he concluded. 

Greenfields Petroleum did not respond to a request for comment. 

‘A gross violation of the Labour Code’

Mirvari Gahramanli told OC Media that a fall in global oil prices meant that many employees in the industry were at risk of losing their jobs.

‘Not only oil companies but also their contractors and subcontractors will have to reduce the number of employees. This process has already begun’, she said.

Gahramanli cited an agreement between OPEC+ countries according to which Azerbaijan will cut production to 554,000 barrels per day until May 2022, down from 718,000 barrels. 

President Ilham Aliyev has forbidden companies from laying off workers during the pandemic. 

In March, Economy Minister Mikayil Jabbarov announced a moratorium on the termination of employment contracts and in April, the Ministry of Labour announced a ban on reducing the number of workers. 

Gahramanli said that the management of Bahar Energy was attempting to bypass the ban. According to her, the company fired workers on ‘various pretexts’, claiming they had broken their contracts and finding flaws in their work.

‘In this case, the unemployed person can not receive unemployment insurance’, she said.

Bahar Energy was previously subject to criticism from the Committee of Oil Workers’ Rights in 2018, when they were accused in the committee's annual report of having poor working conditions leading to the death of a worker,

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