February 28, 2018 / 3:49 PM / 10 months ago

Strike at Ecopetrol's refinery could hold up maintenance, impact output

BOGOTA, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Maintenance on a unit of state oil company Ecopetrol’s refinery in Barrancabermeja, Colombia’s most important, could be held up by a workers strike, eventually affecting production, a union leader said on Wednesday.

While maintenance on the UOP2 unit was scheduled, a prolonged delay in its ignition could affect output at the refinery, Cesar Loza, head of the workers’ union, told Reuters.

The refinery has capacity for 250,000 barrels of oil a day, according to oil sector sources.

Some 2,000 workers are protesting a failure by Ecopetrol to recognize additional payments for working on Sundays, Loza said.

“The indefinite strike is due to a lack of knowledge of the rights of outsourced workers,” he said. Some 80 percent of Ecopetrol workers are contractors and “labor rights are being violated.”

A prolonged strike could affect fuel refining and pumping from oil fields, Loza said.

Ecopetrol said protesters also were blocking access of other workers to the refinery, which has 49 processing units, 326 storage tanks and 19 industrial service units.

Felipe Bayon, Ecopetrol’s chief executive, said the company is willing to meet workers to find a solution.

Earlier this month protests forced Ecopetrol to shut down three oil fields with production of about 200,000 barrels of oil a day. Activity in the southeastern fields was restored after an agreement with the demonstrators.

In addition to the workers’ strike, truck drivers called a 24-hour loading stoppage to protest a lack of infrastructure at loading areas.

Ecopetrol generates most of Colombia’s oil production and owns the two main refineries and most of the network of pipelines. (Reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Writing by Helen Murphy Editing by Bill Trott)

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