(Adds comment from a Petrobras union)
By Jeb Blount
RIO DE JANEIRO, Sept 2 (Reuters) - Brazil’s Petrobras said on Friday that more than one in five of its direct employees agreed to leave the financially troubled state-led oil company in a buyout program that is expected to save 33 billion reais ($10.2 billion) by 2020.
Under the plan, 11,704 employees, or 21 percent of Petrobras’ 54,951 direct workforce as of July, signed up to quit their jobs or retire early, Petroleo Brasileiro SA, as Petrobras is formally known, said in a statement.
The total number of employees signed up since April is 97 percent of a job reduction plan that budgeted 4.4 billion reais for the voluntary dismissal of up to 12,000 employees, or an average of 367,000 reais ($113,168) per employee.
Petrobras faces rising payments on its nearly $125 billion of debt, the largest in the global oil industry, as well as massive new costs to develop giant offshore oil prospects off the coast of Brazil south of Rio de Janeiro.
It has also been battered by a sprawling corruption scandal and a plunge in world oil prices.
FUP, one of the largest unions representing Petrobras employees, said the job cuts put the remaining employees and Brazil’s environment at risk. The risk is especially high in light of 8,000 layoffs in the last three years have cut the company workforce by a quarter and left key positions unfilled, the union said in a statement.
“The result of this disastrous management model will be more accidents, putting society on the verge of a great but expected tragedy,” the statement said.
Petrobras said it has a program to identify employee skills and is conducting the layoffs in a way that will allow it to replace critical people who are leaving with qualified employees.
The number of employees agreeing to the buyout program could rise as the deadline for postmarking written requests was Aug. 31, Petrobras said. Most of Petrobras’ direct core employees got their jobs through competitive examinations and have a range of civil service-style rights making them hard to fire.
While Petrobras is controlled by the government, most of its stock is held by non-government investors.
As of June 30, Petrobras had provisioned 1.2 billion reais for the dismissal program, based on the 4,087 employees who had already agreed to take the buyout. Layoffs under the plan began on June 16 and 2,450 employees have already left their jobs. ($1 = 3.24 Brazilian reais) (Reporting by Jeb Blount; Editing by Leslie Adler and Alistair Bell)