Exxon Oil Traders in Belgium Protest Move to London

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Protestors outside Exxon Mobil Corp.’s office in Brussels, on April 30.

Some Exxon Mobil Corp. trading staff protested outside the oil giant’s Brussels office Tuesday over a decision by the company to move the trading floor to London, which they say will result in job cuts if they don’t agree to the new assignments.

Around 50 employees assembled outside Exxon’s red-brick office, a stone’s throw from the NATO military alliance headquarters on the outskirts of Brussels, to protest hundreds of job reductions over the past three years. Roughly a fifth those who took part work on the company’s trading floor and will lose their jobs if they don’t relocate, according to union representatives. In total, around 37 trading jobs are at stake.

“It’s time for people to understand it cannot go on like this,” said Hans Christiaens, the permanent secretary for BBTK, a Belgian socialist trade union and one of the protest organizers. “Every now and then you have to just go out in the street and make a statement.”

Earlier this year, Exxon asked its Belgian traders to relocate to the UK after it created a new global trading division to merge dispersed teams under the same business unit. The move is part of a major expansion in trading for the oil company, which historically hasn’t taken on as much risk as European rivals Shell Plc and BP Plc.

The terms being offered, however, aren’t satisfactory, according to an employee speaking under the condition of anonymity due to staff restrictions on speaking to the media. Employees have been told they risk losing their jobs if they refuse to move, while the new contracts would tie half of a trader’s pay to performance criteria that haven’t yet been revealed, the person said. Almost 80% of the traders affected don’t want to move to London due to family concerns and unsatisfactory moving conditions, according to a survey conducted by the unions.

In a statement, an Exxon spokesperson said the company complies with all workplace laws and regulations where it operates around the globe.

Strike Notice

Employees gathered at 9 a.m. under colorful gazebos on the lawn outside Exxon’s European headquarters to discuss the situation for 30 minutes. Afterward, loud speakers blared music, including T.Rex’s “.” The unions have issued a strike notice, according to the person.

Part of the disagreement also relates to the three-decade old “Renault Law,” which requires official negotiations between the company and its employees when more than 30 people face job losses. Exxon is trying to avoid triggering those provisions and is instead favoring informal bilateral conversations with employees, raising the risk of deals to stave off further actions by unions, according to the person.

In its statement, Exxon said it has evaluated the Renault law and determined its provisions are not applicable to the company’s plan to move its Brussels office to London.

More than 300 Exxon employees — about a third of its Brussels workforce — have departed from their jobs over a three-year period, according to the statement from the Association of Employees, Technicians and Managers, the General Confederation of Liberal Trade Unions of Belgium, and the Confederation of Christian Trade Unions. Trading-floor departures would account for a further 6%.

Exxon asked employees not to attend the demonstration due to safety concerns and possible press attention, according to an email seen by Bloomberg News. The oil giant offered instead a meeting inside the building.

“We strongly prefer to engage with all employees directly rather than through representatives that may not fully represent your opinions,” the email said. “Please keep in mind that you are not allowed to represent the company in your statements.”

(Adds statements from Exxon in the sixth and ninth paragraphs.)

©2024 Bloomberg L.P.

By John Ainger , Laura Hurst


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