KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Oil workers in Kuwait went on strike Sunday to protest proposed government cutbacks as the OPEC nation grapples with a prolonged slump in crude prices.
Thousands of workers gathered for demonstrations at the start of the local workweek in the town of Ahmadi, where the state-run Kuwait Oil Co. has its headquarters, some 40 kilometers (25 miles) south of Kuwait City.
Protesters held signs reading "Stop meddling with the rights of the oil sector workers!" and "We will not allow you to take away our rights," witnesses said.
Oil worker unions approved the strike last week after failing to reach common ground with Kuwait's Oil Ministry.
The Kuwait Petroleum Corp., which is the parent company of the Kuwait Oil Co. and other related firms, said it has implemented an emergency plan to cope with the strike.
The government was quick to criticize the strike, warning in a statement from the Cabinet on Sunday that the strike is an "illegitimate act and a violation of the law" due to "its serious impact on the public interest."
The statement, carried by the official Kuwait News Agency, added that relevant agencies have been instructed to take legal action against anyone involved in the disruption of vital oil facilities.
Sheikh Talal Al Khalid Al Sabah, the spokesman for Kuwait's oil sector, said some retirees and contractors were being recalled to provide additional manpower.
Kuwait is able to meet "the most prominent global market demands" and has sufficient stockpiles to serve local needs, he said in a statement carried by the official Kuwait News Agency.
Adel al-Fadhel, a spokesman for the Kuwait Oil Company Workers' Union, said workers opted to picket after government officials failed to meet the unions' demands to keep workers' salaries and benefits untouched from government cutbacks.
"The government rejected our proposals and is adamant on decreasing employee salaries. This is not acceptable," he said.
The strike comes as representatives of major oil producing nations gather in nearby Qatar to discuss plans to freeze oil output in an attempt to shore up prices. The drop from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to around $40 now is straining budgets of large producers such as Kuwait.