Nigeria's oil industry unions, which staged a strike this month, are pressing the government to prevent oil majors hit by a slump in crude prices from laying off staff, the oil minister said on Wednesday.
The two major unions NUPENG and PENGASSAN held a brief strike two weeks ago after the government said it will split state oil firm NNPC into separate units, part of reforms by President Muhammadu Buhari to end graft and mismanagement in the industry.
They suspended the action after the government said it would listen to their demands, which they laid out at a meeting with Buhari, their first since the former general was elected a year ago.
"They (unions) are worried about job loss in the sector arising from the position of majors who feel that the economy is giving the rough end of the stick," said Oil Minister Emmanuel Ibe Kachikwu, who attended Wednesday's meeting.
"And so we are going to be working with the oil majors to ensure that we do not experience the kind of job loss that we are hearing has the potential to occur in the sector," he told reporters.
Oil majors such as Shell work with NNPC in joint ventures.
The unions also opposed job cuts at refineries, which the government is considering selling, Kachikwu said.
NUPENG head Igwe Achese said the meeting had been successful. "Mr President has assured us that both NUPENG and PENGASSAN will continue to be part of the restructuring," he said.
The unions were also demanding a swift passage of the Petroleum Industry Bill, a project in the works for a decade to overhaul the industry, he added. It will call for environmental, tax and revenues sharing rules.
Kachikwu added the government hoped to end fuel shortages hitting much of the West African nation within two months as the state oil firm tries to restart Nigeria's outdated refineries.
"Our strategy is that whatever is produced in the refineries will not go for sale, we are going to keep them in the strategic reserve," he said. "The key problem here is that there is no reserve."