Rig workers slam threatened lock-out

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Leaders for oil rig workers who are striking over lost pension benefits were furious on Thursday after their employers threatened to shut down all rigs in the North Sea and literally lock out non-striking workers as well. The move would affect more than 6,000 workers and halt Norwegian oil and gas production.

Gro Brækken, head of the employers’ organization OLF (Oljeindustriens Landsforening), candidly admitted she and her oil company patrons were trying to force the government to step in and order the 708 rig strikers back to work.

“We’re resorting to a lock-out because we’re in a deadlocked situation,” Brækken told Norwegian Broadcasting (NRK). “We have tried and tried to reach agreement with the unions. We are now in the 12th day of the strike and we now want to bring an end to it.”

Efforts at mediation failed earlier this week and Brækken said she hopes the government will step in and force a settlement, when faced with billions of kroner worth of lost oil revenues.

OLF’s threat to start a lock-out from midnight Monday was blasted by union leaders who called it “an abuse of power” and an “overreaction.” Leif Sande of the labour organization Industri Energi, who has been among those leading the strike over lost pension benefits,  said it would damage Norway’s reputation for being a stable supplier of oil and gas.

“I hope the Norwegian authorities think twice before stepping in,” Sande told NRK. “There won’t be any gas crisis in Europe now in the summertime. Let the strike and the lock-out continue for a while. But it will hurt Norway’s reputation abroad regardless.”

Officials of Norway’s left-center Labour Party-led government are reluctant to force a settlement, although Labour Minister Hanne Bjurstrøm did step in and end a strike by security guards a month ago, when their labour dispute forced some airports to close.

Sande accused OLF of putting Norway’s reputation at risk to stop a conflict that he claims won’t cost the employers. OLF’s Brækken has responded by saying the oil rig workers shouldn’t be entitled to any better pension benefits than anyone else.

Oil and Energy Minister Ole Borten Moe of the Center Party, who’s in the midst of opening up new areas of Norway’s continental shelf to oil exploration, said it would be “very serious” for Norway if OLF carries out its lock-out. It would be Bjurstrøm of the Labour Party who would make the decision whether to step in and force mediation.

Views and News from Norway/Nina Berglund

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