North Sea strike action delivered another twist recently as union members decided to reject the deal that industry chiefs announced earlier this year.
As a consequence, the Unite Union is planning to move ahead for a ballot on industrial action which was abolished last month. Over 63% of its offshore members voted to decline the offer which effectively worked out at £7000 per worker yearly, according to the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA).
The OCA represents UK oil and gas contracts said it was “extremely disappointed” by the outcome and reiterated the warning that strike action would “jeopardise” the industry’s future.
Union bosses, who had advised their members to accept last month’s offer, said the result showed that companies need to improve the way they engage with workers.
The two sides have been in dispute over oil and gas companies’ efforts to offset the impact of the oil price slump by changing shift patterns, sick pay and leave entitlement.
Industry chiefs said companies had to make changes to stay afloat amid the oil price downturn, but unions argued that switching to “equal-time” would lead to a slide in working standards.
But in June the OCA appeared to put the quarrel to bed after months of wrangling when the Unite and GMB unions recommended that its members vote to accept a revised pay deal.
OCA chief executive Bill Murray said the deal addressed two long standing issues in these negotiations – sick pay and holiday pay – but it was not enough to convince Unite’s members.
Mr Murray said: “We are extremely disappointed that the workforce has chosen to ignore their Trade Unions’ advice and reject our offer.
“We believe that we have acted as a fair negotiator throughout this process and that our offer balances the needs of workers with the requirements of business at this challenging time.
“As we have said before, strike action will only serve to make investment in the North Sea less attractive and jeopardise the long-term future of the industry.”
The outcome of the GMB vote is as yet unknown, but it is thought that Unite’s ballot carries more weight as a greater number of its members took part.
The spokesman for GMB was unavailable for comment when contacted yesterday evening.
Unite industrial officer Willie Wallace, said: “We said previously that our members would have the final say and they are clear that the OCA offer isn’t good enough.
“North Sea employers must do more to address the deep concerns our members have over these shift pattern changes – from loss of earnings and livelihoods to the impact on workplace health and safety and quality of life.”
Industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) joined the OCA in expressing regret at yesterday’s outcome.
An OGUK spokeswoman said: “We hope that the door is still open to finding an agreement, and both sides can reach an understanding that will safeguard the long term future of our industry.”