UK’s Petrofac halts work at Tunisia gas plant
British energy firm Petrofac stopped work at a Tunisia gas plant after renewed protests despite an agreement to end social unrest, a minister and a company official said Wednesday.
The halt in operations at Cherqui on Kerkennah island in southeast Tunisia comes after a deal in September ended a protest by local workers.
“Despite the agreement signed in September and the promises from civil society in Kerkennah, (protesters) several times blocked the road for trucks,” Energy Minister Hela Cheikhrouhou told radio Mosaique FM.
“Civil society needs to deal with the situation in a responsible way. From our side, we want to listen to those who are blocking the way to trucks and to their new demands,” she said.
Activities had resumed at the site at the start of the month, according to Tunisian media. The exact demands of the protesters were not immediately clear.
“This is not how we can best help (foreign) firms to work in out country,” Cheikhrouhou said.
The head of Petrofac in Tunisia, Imed Derouiche, was quoted by HuffPost Tunisie as saying the company had decided on a “technical shutdown” after the road blocks.
Tunisia said in September that Petrofac would resume operations at the gas plant after a labour dispute was resolved that had halted work for months.
The accord, negotiated in the presence demonstrators and union figures, called for the creation of three-year contracts and a development company for Kerkennah, Social Affairs Minister Mohamed Trabelsi said at the time.
Petrofac, which works in cooperation with Tunisia’s national oil company at the site, is the largest employer on the Kerkennah islands.
The unrest started at the start of the year after the end of a programme — largely financed by Petrofac and created in the wake of Tunisia’s 2011 uprising — to get unemployed graduates into work, although often without permanent contracts or benefits.
Petrofac said it could no longer fund the programme and called on the Tunisian state to take over.
Tunisia is battling high unemployment and has been hit by a spate of jihadist attacks in the past 18 months, but has largely escaped the widespread unrest experienced by other countries that underwent 2011’s wave of popular uprisings.