Strikes hit Bahrain's Sitra refinery

22 March 2011

Further strikes threatened unless political negotiations progress

Strikes by workers at the Sitra refinery owned by the state-owned Bahrain Petroleum Company (Bapco) could cause major disruptions to the island’s already fragile economy due to the lack of petroleum products.

The refinery has been reported to be working at 10 per cent of its total capacity of 250,000 barrels a day as Bapco employees staged a week-long walkout as part of a general strike organised by the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GFTBU).

The strike was organised in the wake of a bloody crackdown on anti-government protests that began on 15 March.

Bahrain’s industrial sector has reported no major shutdowns at any of its major plants, despite reports that up to 70 per cent of Bahrainis have been on strike.

A spokesman for Aluminium Bahrain (Alba) says that no production has been lost at its 870,000 tonne-a-year smelter, despite the threat of strike action. In a statement, Alba said shipping was disrupted for several days due to freight restrictions at the Khalifa bin Salman Port.

“There was some disruptions at the port, but it started full operations again yesterday [20 March],” says the spokesman. “We are confident that we will be able to clear the backlog within a few days.”

The metals park situated around the Alba smelter, including Midal Cables and the Gulf Aluminium Rolling Mill Company (Garmco), have also reported that there have been no stoppages due to strikes.

Construction projects in Manama have experienced some disruptions in mid-March when the security crackdown was at its most severe, but sources now indicate that workers have returned to sites.

“We stopped work for a few days only and we are working again today,” said an international contractor working in Bahrain on 20 March.

The GFBTU agreed to stop protests on 22 March on the condition that members would be protected. It has said that further strikes remain possible though, if negotiations between Shia opposition parties and the minority Sunni rulers do not move forward.

Separately, Bapco is also seeking a financial adviser to help it develop an expansion and upgrade of the Sitra refinery.

Despite the current unrest in Bahrain, several international banks are understood to considering bidding for the work.

The expansion could cost up to $2bn, although it is unclear how much of that would need to be raised from banks.

The expansion of the Sitra refinery is intended to expand capacity to between 500,000-600,000 b/d. The additional capacity for the refinery is dependent on the development of the expansion of a pipeline bringing crude oil in from Saudi Arabia.

Sitra is the only refinery in Bahrain and was built in 1936.

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