New strike shuts Norwegian oil rigs

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Around 700 North Sea oil rig workers went on strike Sunday, demanding early and full retirement benefits from the age of 62. The strike was shutting down production at various rigs on the Norwegian continental shelf and can cost the state billions in lost oil revenues if it drags on.

The Heidrun field is among those being hit by the new strike by oil service industry workers. PHOTO: Statoil/Øyvind Hagen

Both the employers’ organization NHO and the oil industry association Oljeindustriens Landsforening (OLF) rejected the demand posed by both Industri Energi, part of national trade union confederation LO, and the union SAFE, part of the YS labour organization.

Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK) reported that the two unions earlier had been at odds with each other, but this year joined forces in demanding full retirement payable at age 62, instead of the standard retirement age in Norway of 67.

OLF’s negotiations leader, Jan Hodneland, told news bureau NTB that it was “in principle unacceptable” to approve better pension benefits for workers on the oil fields because a labour pact would apply to all companies that are members of the employers’ organizations and have accepted state reforms that have tightened benefits.

State oil company Statoil had initially granted so-called gavepensjoner (favourable early retirement) to its employees, but started trying to trim the retirement benefits after the state implemented pension reforms. That angered the unions, which felt they were being robbed of benefits they’d won earlier, not least at a time when Statoil executives were given generous retirement packages.

“We are not going to allow employers to rob us of our pensions,” claimed Leif Sande of Industry Energi. “That’s why we’re striking.” It was unclear whether he and his members had much overall sympathy, because the oil rig workers already have base pay of NOK 585,000 (around USD 100,000) and with overtime can earn as much as NOK 1 million a year (USD 165,000).

The unions initially pulled 708 of their members off the job, including employees of Statoil, BP and catering company ESS at the installations Skarv, Oseberg Feltsenter, Heidrun and Floatel Superior, a residence structure lying at Oseberg.

The Oseberg and Heidrun oil fields were forced to shut down production but it will take four to five days before the shutdowns are complete. The industrial facility at Tjeldbergodden gets its gas from Heidrun, so was forced to shut down as well.

The strike, if long-lasting, is expected to cost around NOK 150 million per day.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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