In Iraq’s fields of black gold, thousands lose livelihoods

(Reuters) – Mohammed Haider, a security worker in Iraq’s southern oilfields, thought he was safe after signing a new one-year contract to guard oil facilities. Three days later, he was out of a job.

“I got laid off. They threw us out on the pavement,” the 38-year-old said, speaking as he protested outside the Basra Oil Company headquarters, the national partner for foreign companies.

Haider had been hired to drive vehicles for a British security firm around the giant West Qurna 1 oilfield that produces hundreds of thousands of barrels of crude each day – part of OPEC member Iraq’s principal source of wealth.

He now spends his days at home or searching in vain online for jobs that are hard to come by in a crisis-hit economy.

“I can’t even fall back on taxi-driving work. The curfew because of coronavirus means I’d get arrested for driving around illegally,” he said later at his home.

Haider is one of thousands of workers in Iraq’s oil sector who were laid off this year after a fall in oil prices caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, and who struggle to find any other source of income.

Iraq in March asked international oil companies to cut their budgets by 30% because of plummeting oil prices. Energy companies in the south responded by cutting costs.

Subcontractors, including security, construction and transport firms, let thousands of workers go, according to local authorities.

“Of about 80,000 Iraqis working in the oilfields, some 10,000 to 15,000 are now out of work”, said Mohammed Ibadi, a local government official in Basra province, where most of the southern fields are located.

Iraqi workers had been forced to take unpaid leave or had been laid off completely, mostly by subcontractors, he said.

The British security company that employed Haider declined to comment.

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