INDENI Petroleum Refinery has had no crude oil for over two months, the longest in the last 10 years, partly triggered by the coronavirus pandemic which has disrupted feedstock imports, two worker unions say.

According to a joint-press statement issued by the Power Generation and Allied Workers’ Union of Zambia (POGAWUZ) and the National Union of Transport and Allied Workers (NUTAW), Wednesday, Indeni Refinery has been out of feedstock for the last two months.

Workers have, however, asked government to quickly intervene to restore supply of crude oil or risk having the plant permanently shut down.

“POGAWUZ and NUTAW would like to urge government to quickly address the issue of non-availability of crude oil at Indeni Petroleum Refinery Company Limited. The Refinery has had no crude oil for over sixty days, which is the longest in the last decade. There is no pumping despite the many assurances by the Ministry of Energy. The situation raises many concerns and must not be allowed to continue. The plant is an expensive installation whose safety gets compromised when left to lie idle,” read the joint-statement signed by Mutukelwa Lubita and Anderson Haninga, the general secretaries of POGAWUZ and NUTAW, respectively.

“In this COVID-19 era, it should be the position of the Ministry of Energy to compliment the fight against the pandemic by reduced exposure unlike the increased importation of finished products. In our view, the importation is exposing tanker drivers to COVID-19 and, consequently, the entire country. The pandemic has brought with it untold suffering in form of job losses. This situation at Indeni, therefore, does threaten the workers. The anxiety levels are high, especially that there has never been a lengthy shut down like it for nearly two decades. We do sympathise with the workers for the mental torture they are being subjected to.”

The unions warned that government’s preferred option of importing finished petroleum products into the country as opposed to pumping crude oil directly to Indeni, risked destabilising the country’s wider economy as the oil sub-sector would only benefit the private sector.

“This is not just torture to the workers, but also a threat to the nation if transportation of fuel is left in private hands. It puts money in the oil marketing company’s and none in government. With the shutdown of Indeni, Ndola Lime operations are affected, Ndola Energy, which contributes about 100MW to the Zesco grid is equally shut, which affects the national power supply. We further implore the authorities to consider migrating the responsibility of crude oil procurement to Indeni so as to avoid future occurrences of this nature. As we understand it, the money for crude oil should not be a challenge because it revolves; crude oil is procured, refined and sold, for a profit,” stated the unions.

“As workers’ representatives, therefore, we are left wondering whether or not to believe the speculation that some highly-placed technocrats at the Ministry of Energy are cashing in on the situation by involving themselves directly or indirectly in the importation of finished petroleum products. Indeni workers can’t breathe!”