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War Jitters Prompt 600 Foreign Workers to Quit Saudi Oilfields

From Reuters

About 600 foreign workers who fear an outbreak of war in the Persian Gulf have resigned from Saudi Aramco and many more are expected to go, a Saudi executive of the company said Thursday.

But production by the giant state-owned Saudi oil company was unaffected, he said in an interview in this nerve center of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry, now also the base for U.S. forces massing in the kingdom.

Industry executives said the world’s biggest oil exporter issued orders last week to pump more oil to help fill a gap caused by shortages from Iraq and Kuwait. Their oil stopped flowing to consumers because of an international trade embargo after Iraq’s invasion of the emirate four weeks ago.

The executive, who asked not to be identified, said he believed that the number of 600 “may double or triple in the next three months, mainly because people will take time to find other jobs and sell their assets.”

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Those who have resigned so far include 300 Filipinos--mostly medical staff--100 Britons, 40 Americans, 100 Pakistanis and Indians and 60 Arabs.

Tens of thousands of U.S. and other Western forces are deployed in and around Dhahran to deter a possible Iraqi attack.

“Kuwait has been invaded. Half of the U.S. military is parked next door and we’re supposed to say everything is normal,” the official said.

Many of the 12,000 foreigners working for Saudi Aramco sent their families home during the early days of the gulf crisis, company executives said.

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“Many will leave because they don’t want to be separated from their families. They are already looking for alternative jobs,” one said.

Morale was low, he said.

“People quitting is the tip of the iceberg. There are thousands of upset and unhappy employees.” The official said the company had started to urge employees to postpone their summer vacations in the third week of the crisis that erupted Aug. 2.

Among those planning to leave are 250 highly skilled employees on loan from U.S. oil giants Exxon, Texaco, Chevron and Mobil, major U.S. affiliates of Saudi Aramco, which became wholly owned by the Saudi Arabian government in 1988.

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The official said the company was trying to keep them by offering each $3,000 a month additional bonus to maintain their families and children abroad, free airline tickets and insurance benefits.

But fears persisted, especially among those who had been with the company more than 10 years and were entitled to handsome benefits.

“This is a good cutoff point for them to leave. . . . They think if there is a war, they may lose everything, including their benefits,” he said.

According to Saudi Aramco officials, the exodus has highlighted Saudi Arabia’s over-dependence on foreign workers to run vital oil and natural gas installations.

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“Business will cost more as they will have a harder time getting things done because they are losing many good expatriate employees,” one said.

The company will also have to spend more to hire new people and train more Saudis, company executives said.

The company employs about 32,000 Saudis, but the officials said most highly skilled nationals preferred to work in private businesses.

Saudi Aramco was virtually run by Americans in the early 1980s. But the number of Americans dropped to fewer than 3,000 this year from around 6,000 in 1981. The Saudi state-owned oil company receives technical advice from its U.S. affiliates, to which it supplies oil under long-term contract.

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