UNION leaders have warned of “massive disruption” on North Sea oil installations after offshore catering workers threatened to strike over a pay dispute.
The Unite trade union and RMT said they would ballot their members on industrial action in the new year after talks with the industry body, Caterers Offshore Trade Association (Cota), broke down.
Union bosses said Cota’s offer of a 4.1% pay rise was “overwhelmingly rejected” by members and, after the trade organisation said it would not go back to the negotiating table, workers called for a ballot on industrial action.
If the dispute – involving around 2,500 catering staff on fixed platforms in the North Sea – leads to a strike then unions predicted operators would be forced to shut down platforms and halt production.
Unite’s regional industrial organiser John Taylor said: “Negotiations have been going on for a number of months and Cota’s final offer was 4.1%.
“We put that to our members who overwhelmingly rejected it. Cota said they would not have any further discussions so members are now in favour of strike action.”
Mr Taylor said if the offshore catering workforce went on strike, it would be their first official walkout since 1979.
He added that the length of the action would only be decided if the ballot found the majority of workers were in favour of the move.
RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said offshore caterers were not just disappointed with the pay rise on offer, but also the lack of additional benefits on the table.
He said that workers had accepted a low wage rise last year and a pay freeze the year before.
He said: “These guys are at the bottom of the pecking order and they accept they are not at the same level as the engineers, but they have been treated with contempt for too long.
“They are worth the same benefits given to every other grade of worker out there and it’s time the industry acknowledged that is the case.”
Mr Molloy warned of platforms being shut down if the strike went ahead.
“This would inevitably lead to production grinding to a halt – today’s offshore worker would not be prepared to put up with the conditions that would prevail if the catering staff were not there to provide this absolutely crucial service,” he said.
The result of the ballot is expected at the end of January or early February. Cota was unable to comment last night.
It comes after the RMT said strike action among all offshore workers was an option after the UK Supreme Court dismissed a legal challenge over paid holidays.
Industrial action will be considered by union members at a series of meetings after five Supreme Court justices ruled that shift patterns in the offshore sector do not breach European rules.