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Workers line up for their shift at the Tabasco refinery. Workers line up for their shift at the Tabasco refinery.

Energy minister quells refinery uprising, promising workers 8% pay hike

The offer came after the government said workers were not underpaid

Laborers at the construction site of the new Pemex refinery who walked off the job last week to protest pay and working conditions appear to have been appeased by a promise of an 8% raise.

Some 5,000 workers employed by the construction company ICA Fluor downed tools at the site of the Dos Bocas refinery on the Tabasco coast.

But the laborers were back at work Sunday after Energy Minister Rocío Nahle pledged to increase their wages by 8% starting this Friday at the latest, according to the newspaper Milenio.

The news website Emeequis reported that the Energy Ministry, which is managing the Dos Bocas project, also committed to limiting shift lengths to no more than 12 hours. ICA workers had complained that their work hours were extended without additional remuneration.

One worker who spoke with Milenio on the condition of anonymity said that he and his colleagues were not entirely convinced the pay rise will become reality.

“They promised us 8% but let’s see if it happens. … Sometimes they tell lies to control the matter,” he said.

Emeequis said it spoke with two leaders of the Autonomous Federation of Workers and Employees of the State of Tabasco who said all Dos Bocas workers will get pay increases of 5-10% if they return to work and commit to not going on strike again.

The pledge to increase workers’ pay came after three presumed ICA employees were taken into custody on weapons charges during a confrontation at the Dos Bocas site. They are now imprisoned in Tabasco awaiting trial.

Ricardo Hernández Daza, head of the Mexican Workers Confederation in Tabasco, claimed that the conflict between workers and ICA Fluor was led by “pseudo union members” who were manipulated by Susana Prieto Terrazas, a federal deputy with the ruling Morena party. Hernández said that Prieto, who he described as a “troublemaker,” met with a group of workers on October 9 in Paraíso, the municipality where the refinery is being built.

A clash between state police and workers at the construction site last Wednesday during which 10 of the latter were injured was organized by “unidentified and unrecognized people,” he said.

In turn, Prieto told Milenio that Hernández is “a corrupt union leader” in cahoots with a corrupt company. “… It’s a labor conflict matter due to the low salaries that ICA Fluor pays,” she said.

In contrast, Nahle and President López Obrador claimed that the recent job action was not motivated by low pay.

“It’s a matter of [union] leaders, they’re fighting for a contract. They should behave themselves because the workers are not being paid poorly, they have all their benefits and fair salaries,” López Obrador said last week.

Companies collaborating with the government to build the new refinery are under pressure to meet a July 2022 deadline for its completion.

The government announced in May 2019 that it had scrapped the bidding process to find a builder for the new refinery on the grounds that the bids were too high and the project would take too long. Instead, Pemex and the Energy Ministry took charge of the project and the government pledged it wouldn’t cost more than US $8 billion.

However, the refinery is now expected to cost at least $8.9 billion due to a range of cost increases, even before the promised pay hike for workers is taken into account.

With reports from Milenio and Eme Equis 

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