Mediation failed to settle oil strike

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A strike by oil service workers in the North Sea entered its 12th day on Thursday, after attempts at mediation failed Wednesday evening. The strike has shut down several Norwegian oil rigs and reportedly is costing Statoil alone more than NOK 100 million a day.

A national mediator called the three labour organizations representing the workers and representatives for their employees into the offices of the state agency Riksmekleren Wednesday afternoon, but the effort to reach agreement on pension issues was unsucessful. Both sides blamed the other.

Hilde-Marit Rysst of the labour organization SAFE claimed that the “will to negotiate” on the part of the employers’ organization OLF (Oljeindustriens Landsforening) was “microscopic,”  while her colleague Leif Sande in one of the other labour organizations, Industri Energi, claimed there was “stong willingness” on the part of the workers to continue the strike to retain their early retirement benefits.

“We think there was surprisingly little willingness (by OLF) to find a solution,” Rysst told news bureau NTB. The labour groups had proposed using an industry welfare fund called Oljearbeidernes Sosiale Ordninger to fund the cost of continuing to allow oil workers to retire at age 62 with full benefits.

“It’s absolutely possible to use these funds, without it costing the employers a cent,” Rysst claimed. The managing director of OLF, Gro Brækken, rejected the idea, calling it a “violation in principle” of new state pension reform rules.

Brækken claimed the oil rig workers “already are pension winners in Norway because of their high wages, and it would be wrong and unfair to all other workers” to grant what she believes would be special pension concessions. Most oil rig workers have base pay that’s the equivalent of nearly USD 100,000 a year, more when overtime is included.

The workers’, meanwhile, stress that they face losing pension benefits they won several years ago.

“We’re back at the stating point,” Brækken said. The labour officials said they “couldn’t rule out” calling more members off the job, in addition to the 708 rig workers now on strike, meaning the strike could spread to other rigs and disrupt more oil and gas production. State officials also may step in and order them all back to work.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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