Venezuela Oil Workers Selling Uniforms for Food

MARACAIBO, Venezuela (Reuters) – For decades, jobs at Venezuela’s state-run oil giant PDVSA were coveted for above average salaries, generous benefits and cheap credit that brought home ownership and vacationing abroad within reach for many workers.

Now, in Venezuela’s asphyxiating economy, even PDVSA employees are struggling to pay for everything from food and bus rides to school fees as triple-digit inflation eats away incomes.

They are pawning goods, maxing out credit cards, taking side jobs, and even selling PDVSA uniforms to buy food, according to Reuters’ interviews with two dozen workers, family members, and union leaders.

“Every day a PDVSA worker comes to sell his overall,” said Elmer, a hawker at the biggest market in the oil city of Maracaibo, as shoppers eyed pricey rice and flour imported from neighboring Colombia.

“They also sell boots, trousers, gloves and masks.”

The bulk of PDVSA’s roughly 150,000 workers make from $35 to $150 a month plus some $90 dollars in food tickets, as calculated at the black market exchange rate. It is still more than many Venezuelans, but not enough, employees say.

“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.

The toll of the economic crisis is fueling worker disillusionment, absenteeism, and a brain drain and is hurting efficiency in the industry which 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,” said the maintenance worker, speaking on condition of anonymity as he said he feared reprisals.

That adds to a wide array of problems caused by a cash shortfall – from underinvestment and part shortages to poor maintenance, theft and insufficient imports for blending.

As a result, the OPEC member’s oil output tumbled this year, dealing another blow to the unpopular government of leftist President Nicolas Maduro, already under pressure due to low international oil prices.

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