CNOOC Executives Under Fire Over Safety Lapses and Worker Pay Gap

Kampala, Uganda | THE BLACK EXAMINER | The top executives of CNOOC Uganda Limited, a subsidiary of CNOOC International, is facing scrutiny and criticism from the Petroleum Authority of Uganda (PAU). This comes in response to concerns about inadequate safety measures and allegations of significant wage disparities between Ugandan and Chinese employees within the company.

These concerns arose following a tragic accident in the Kingfisher Project Area, which is operated by CNOOC Uganda, resulting in the loss of a subcontractor’s life. This incident prompted the PAU to focus on the company’s employee safety measures and welfare practices.

Sources with knowledge of the situation have disclosed that on October 6, 2023, a fatal accident occurred in the Kingfisher Project Area, leading to the unfortunate death of a subcontractor. The PAU extended condolences to the deceased’s family and expressed dismay over the incident.

It has been revealed that the accident involved a truck owned by the Excel Company, which had been subcontracted by CNOOC Uganda Limited for site clearance and well pad construction, among other tasks.

In the wake of these allegations, the Petroleum Authority, which oversees the oil and gas sector, expressed deep concerns about CNOOC’s operations. They pointed out that safety warnings had been disregarded, ultimately resulting in this tragic event.

Furthermore, the PAU highlighted that CNOOC Uganda Limited had previously ignored several safety incidents that were brought to their attention, deeming this disregard unacceptable and detrimental to personnel safety and the sector’s reputation. Consequently, the company’s negligence and failure to implement prescribed safety measures have led to the suspension of all operations in the Kingfisher field until necessary safety and security measures are met.

In a letter addressed to the President of CNOOC Uganda, the Executive Director of PAU, Mr. Earnest Rubondo, directed the company to cease operations from October 7, 2023, until further notice.

Mr. Rubondo’s letter referred to section 177 of the Petroleum (Exploration, Development, and Production) Act 2013 and mandated the suspension of CNOOC Uganda Limited’s operations, with the exception of activities essential for maintaining safety and security.

This incident is not the first to prompt the PAU to intervene in CNOOC activities. The company has previously been embroiled in health and safety issues, as well as concerns regarding employee welfare. In the past, the PAU directed the company to address complaints from its Ugandan workers about mistreatment and disparities in safety standards between Ugandan and Chinese expatriate workers operating in hazardous environments.

A significant grievance among the workers was the substantial wage gap, with Ugandan employees earning only 16% of the salary paid to their Chinese counterparts. Records indicate that the lowest-paid Chinese worker receives a gross salary of UGX43 million, while the highest-paid Ugandan worker receives a gross salary of UGX7 million, a discrepancy that many Ugandan employees consider highly unfair.

Mr. Ernest T. Rubondo previously directed CNOOC to address these employee-related issues in September 2014, but the company’s leadership has yet to take meaningful action in response to these concerns.

The Kingfisher field is jointly developed by several oil and gas companies, including TotalEnergies E&P (56.67%), China National Offshore Oil (CNOOC) (28.33%), and Uganda National Oil Company (15%), with CNOOC Uganda, a subsidiary of CNOOC, serving as the field’s operator.

It’s worth noting that the appointment of Liu Xaingdong as President of CNOOC Uganda in July 2023 represented a change in leadership for the company, as he succeeded Mr. Chen Zhuobiao, who had held the position since September 2020. Liu previously served as the Head of the Development and Production department at CUL from 2011 to 2015 and later assumed the role of Vice President at CNOOC International until May 2023.

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