Strike averted in offshore sector

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Oil drilling and other offshore operations could continue as usual on Wednesday after employers and unions representing their employees struck a new collective bargaining agreement in overtime talks during the night.

The Statfjord oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea is one of Statoil's oldest. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Work on board oil installations like here on the Statfjord oil field in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea will continue as normal after a strike by offshore workers was averted during the night. PHOTO: Statoil/Harald Pettersen

Details of the new contract remained sketchy Wednesday morning but it appeared the offshore workers were able to retain their lucrative benefits and shift rotations, which allow them to take four weeks off after working two weeks of 12-hour shifts offshore. Even though they thus work far fewer hours than most land-based industrial workers, they have annual average pay of around NOK 800,000 (USD 96,000), according to state statistics bureau SSB (Statistics Norway).

The workers caved in on their demands for even higher pay, though, with news bureau NTB reporting that they accepted raises of around 0.5 percent, instead of the 2.4 percent initially demanded.

“It was important that the two sides found a solution in an industry that’s in crisis,” Jakob Korsgaard, negotiations leader for the Norwegian shipowners’ association (Norges Rederiforbund), told NTB. “As responsible employers we simply can’t take on increased salary costs in an industry that already has quite good pay and working conditions.

Union leaders claimed they were also satisfied with the compromise. “It was vital for us that the rights of our members, whom we have worked hard for over many years, wouldn’t be reduced,” said Asle Reime, negotiations leader for the labour organization Industi Energi.

Reime claimed the employers had challenged the “Norwegian model” for offshore working conditions that the unions claim have resulted in high levels of competence and safety on North Sea oil fields. Both sides called the negotiations “demanding,” with the distance between the two sides so wide “that we needed the help of the state mediator to reach a settlement,” Reime said.

The new agreement will apply to around 7,000 workers on both permanent and portable offshore installations such as oil rigs and production vessels.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund