PdV workers are reluctant bulwark for regime
Caracas, 12 May (Argus) — Venezuela´s core oil operations are so far unscathed by violent clashes between pro-democracy demonstrators and security forces, but sustaining the loyalty of state-owned PdV's bloated workforce poses a growing challenge for the regime of president Nicolas Maduro.
The oil company´s human resources policy is guided by fealty, not productivity. PdV today has more than 150,000 workers, producing 14.6 b/d of crude per head at the official production rate of 2.194mn b/d. In 1998, around 40,000 workers produced 3.3mn b/d, or 82.5 b/d per head.
Chief executive Eulogio Del Pino says all the company´s workers are "unconditionally loyal to the revolution." FUTPV oil union president Wills Rangel, a staunch supporter of the ruling United Socialist Party (PSUV) and a PdV board member, routinely parrots Del Pino's oft-repeated assurances that PdV's workers are "committed to defending socialist PdV and the Bolivarian revolution."
Many of the workers privately criticize the deterioration and increasingly brittle and unsafe condition of PdV´s installations. And they are not immune from violent crime, lawlessness and critical shortages of food and medicine afflicting the country. But while they may be quietly sympathetic, they are not joining the protests, partly because they do not identify with the leaders of Venezuela´s political opposition, which an independent union director says are "not the natural leaders of the oil workers."
Many others keep their heads down out of fear. The government has employed carrot-and-stick measures to keep workers in line by combining wage and benefits increases with threats of dismissal and arrest of any workers deemed to be engaged in disruptive actions, senior independent oil union officials say.
"It's practically impossible for oil workers fired by PdV for political reasons to find new jobs in the oil sector because PdV is the largest oil employer in Venezuela and has the political strength to block oil workers fired for political causes from securing new jobs in the private oil sector," a senior FUTPV official who was fired for political activism in 2014 tells Argus.
PdV's current payroll is almost four times larger than in 2002-03 when a two-month oil strike practically shut down Venezuela's crude production and exports. But all PdV employees who were known or suspected of being potential political activists were purged when late president Hugo Chavez fired over 20,000 employees after the oil strike ended.
"The internal purges have never stopped, in fact the purges have intensified so far in 2017 because of the political crisis, management changes in the company and energy ministry, and the corruption accusations against some senior managers," a PdV eastern division executive said.
"There are not any political activists left in PdV willing to openly protest against the government or do anything that could get them arrested as saboteurs and probably prosecuted by a military court," the executive added.
PdV workers nowadays are subject to mandatory ideological indoctrination. They are routinely summoned to attend pro-government rallies inside and outside the company, union officials added. "Thousands" of PdV workers have no role other than to spy on their peers and on each other, they said.
"PdV's political commissars take attendance at the Maduro government's events and no shows are fired," the PdV executive confirmed.
But even the PdV executive confirmed that PdV's workers are suffering the same deprivations as ordinary Venezuelans.
"All PdV workers and their families individually are suffering the effects of the crisis directly in their homes, struggling like everyone else to find food, medicine, spare parts for their vehicles and home appliances, lighting candles when the lights go out every day, and seeing their savings and future destroyed by the world's highest inflation and a devalued currency whose real value today is much less than the price of one roll of toilet paper in the black market," the PdV executive tells Argus.
The confrontations between unarmed protesters and national guard forces supported by paramilitary gangs have claimed at least 46 lives, a senior public prosecutor says.
Over 1,100 people have been injured and another 2,000 arrested.
The near daily clashes broke out in the wake of a controversial 29 March supreme court ruling that stripped the opposition-controlled legislature of its powers.
Hundreds of small businesses, mostly food markets and bakeries, have been looted and destroyed in Caracas and other cities. Wholesale food distribution has practically shut down.
The unrest has partially impeded PdV's motor fuel and LPG distribution, but the company´s core upstream and downstream operations to date have not suffered any disruptions that can be blamed directly on the protests, numerous industry officials say.
"PdV has serious operational problems in its oil fields, refineries and terminals, but the protests per se are not a problem for the company's operations or the security of its installations," an energy ministry official said.