Hundreds of jobs hang in the balance at NAM

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In September 1999, the Dutch petroleum company, NAM, announced a sweeping reorganisation that could cut 450 jobs from its 2,500-strong workforce. The trade unions expressed their intention to fight the plan vigorously. NAM, which is based in the Netherlands' northern provinces, provides a significant portion of employment in the region and also generates employment outside the company. Provincial authorities responded to the plan with disappointment.

In mid-September 1999, the Dutch Petroleum Company (Nederlandse Aardoliemaatschappij, NAM), a joint venture between Shell and Esso, announced a sweeping reorganisation to be put into effect over the coming five years. Of a total of 2,500 jobs at the firm, 450 now hang in the balance, and the trade unions anticipate that twice that amount may in fact be at stake. The reorganisation will also affect jobs in companies dependent on NAM, which operates in the Netherlands' northern provinces.

Management ascribes the need for far-reaching reorganisation to extreme fluctuations in the price of oil and gas, intensifying competition and the difficulty or, in some cases, inability to secure permits for natural gas drilling and the execution of the necessary surveys. The trade unions view such explanations with scepticism, questioning the oil price of USD 10 a drum on the basis of which the company carried out its calculations and, subsequently, deemed certain investments non-viable. According to the unions, the current price of USD 22 a drum does not justify such computations. The unions also believe that the company has greatly exaggerated the obstacles set up by environmental regulations and that the legal requirements that will have to be followed have been painted in a sombre light. In their eyes, the company's main objective is to keep shareholders satisfied.

According to NAM management, the "natural" rate of staff turnover of 200 jobs per year will nullify the need for forced collective redundancies over the next two years. Of the total number of 2,500 employees, 600 (in the lower wage scales) are covered by a specific collective agreement, and Shell's terms and conditions of employment govern the remaining employees. An agreement was reached to protect the first group from forced redundancies. The idea is to eliminate 250 jobs in the period thereafter. At the same time, another survey of the entire organisational structure is underway, which will again generate conclusions about further restructuring.

Due in part to the fact that each NAM job represents three jobs in the surrounding area, the provincial authorities have also expressed dismay about the plans. The basic assumption is that a further 1,300 indirect jobs will disappear if the reorganisation plans are set in motion.

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