Venezuelan Oil Workers Going To Extreme Measures To Live Due To Economic Crisis

Struggle to survive

It was once a job that was coveted which paid its workers above average salaries and included generous benefits. For decades this was the case at PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-run oil giant. The pay and cheap credit allowed for home ownership as well as vacations abroad for many workers.

Times have changed due to the economic crisis, and even those at the oil company are struggling to pay for everything. Food, bus rides and school fees are difficult to afford due to the triple-digit inflation that now diminishes everyone’s income.

Workers have resorted to pawning off anything they can while maxing out credit cards and taking jobs on the side. Some workers have even sold their PDVSA uniforms to earn extra money, as stated by Reuters following interviews with many workers, their family members, and union leaders.

Elmer, a hawker at Maracaibo’s biggest market, shared about the frequency he sees an oil worker selling his overalls.

“Every day a PDVSA worker comes to sell his overall. They also sell boots, trousers, gloves and masks.”

The majority of PDVSA’s 150,000 workers make $35 to $150 a month, with an additional $90 in food tickets. It is still higher than many people of the nation, but employees state it is not enough.

“‘Sometimes we let the kids sleep in until noon to save on breakfast,’ said a maintenance worker who works on the shores of Maracaibo Lake, Venezuela’s traditional oil-producing area near the Colombian border. He said he has lost five kilos (11 lb) this year because of scrimping on food.”

As Reuters notes, the crisis is resulting in absenteeism and hopelessness in workers, as well as disillusioned employees that are hurting the industry that produces more than 90 percent of Venezuela’s export revenue.

“Most of us aren’t as productive as we used to be, because we’re more focused on how to survive economically,” the maintenance worker stated, speaking anonymously for fear of reprisal.

Due to the effects on efficiency, oil output fell this year, which was another blow to the current government that is highly unpopular. Leftist President Nicolas Maduro is already under pressure due to the low international oil prices.

PDVSA was unwilling to respond to the publication’s request for comment on the issue of crisis and low pay. The organization insists that its employees are happy and state TV often shows their workers cheering. A recent statement from the company also indicates that they see the workforce as intact.

“While PDVSA does not escape the (oil) price situation, its workforce remains intact and ready to generate initiatives to boost major projects.”

Nearby to Maracaibo, the hot oil town of Ciudad Ojeda often has food lines and shops closed up. The mayor’s office is organizing soup kitchens for the first time in history to aid the town of 92,000.

A former PDVSA worker shares that he quit earlier this year, noting that he decided he could earn more driving a taxi. He sold four overalls and a pair of boots so he could be able to feed his three children. He then sold another pair of boots to afford meat and also resorted to selling his dining room table to buy more food.

In the northern part of the country, a mechanic and father of two, who works at Paraguna’s refining center, sold a pair of new boots for $7, stating he sold them “cheap, so I could sell quickly and get food.”

Although workers are angry, they are fearful to speak up and to protest. The low pay impacts all workers and often employees leave work so they can stand in food lines. At Petrocedeno oil upgrader in eastern Venezuela, reports have been made that lineups for food begin an hour before lunch and include rowdy and frustrated workers, who are there before food runs out.

[Featured Image by John Moore/Getty Images]