A small Texas company that recruited Americans to work in Kuwait's oil fields said yesterday it cannot afford to pay six workers trapped in Kuwait and Iraq.
But Bill Schaub, a spokesman for OGE Drilling Inc. of Houston, said the firm had no choice. "The problem is that we are small company and do not have the type of assets that the larger company has," he said. The company's 16 workers in Kuwait were considered to have been terminated Aug. 2, the day Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, he said. Ten escaped.
"Our contracts with these people ended by basis of . . . an act of war, something beyond our control," OGE Vice President Jay Simpson told the Associated Press. "We're very, very troubled by this, obviously," he said. "There is nothing that we can do."
Schaub held out hope that Kuwait Oil Co., which contracted for the workers, might decide to continue paying their salaries. But he said OGE, whose Texas staff consisted of four part-time workers, could not. Normally Kuwait Oil would pay OGE, which then would provide salary and benefits to the workers it supplied.
Kuwait Oil is a subsidiary of Kuwait Petroleum Co., the giant London-based, Kuwaiti-owned firm that operated the oil fields in the now-occupied country. Schaub said officials in London are considering the question and may reach a decision today.
Labor lawyers yesterday said OGE apparently acted within its rights in terminating the workers. "There is nothing in American labor law that requires a company to pay anything, unfortunate as the circumstances for these workers seem to be," said Ira Shepard, a Washington attorney.
Lawyers said the issue probably had not arisen with other workers trapped in Kuwait because most large firms doing business in the Middle East would continue to pay workers to avoid the negative publicity that would result from discharging them.
Schaub said the workers were employed under contracts that terminated automatically if forces beyond control of the company made performance of their work impossible. Many legal and insurance contracts contain such a provision, known as a force majeure, or a superior force, clause.
Wives of two of the discharged workers were furious that OGE did not notify them that their husbands' pay had been terminated. "They don't have the guts to tell us," said Donnita Cole of Odessa, whose husband, John Henry Cole, is reported stranded in Kuwait.
Patricia Hale, whose husband Edward Hale was among the first Americans captured by Iraqi troops, said she, too, had not been told whether her husband's pay would continue. "When I asked if they were prepared to throw me out on the street, they said, 'Oh, no,' " she said.
Hale said she suffers from a chronic lung ailment and has $20,000 in unpaid health bills."A lot of people think we are over there drawing down these mammoth salaries and it's not true," she said. Hale declined to say what her husband was earning in Kuwait, but she said "It's not $200,000, I'll assure you that."
She noted that some Texas workers had signed with OGE after unemployment in the United States forced them to look overseas for jobs. Her husband went to Kuwait earlier this year after having to sell the family house and much of its furnishings, she said.