Bristow helicopter crews have “overwhelmingly voted in favour of industrial action,” the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA) has confirmed.
Of the BALPA members that took part in the vote – numbers of which were not disclosed – 96.31% voted in favour of industrial action against the flight operator.
The disgruntled workers, who include pilots, technical crew, winch paramedics and winch operators, are pursuing the action in a dispute over pay.
BALPA general secretary Amy Leversidge said: “This ballot is a clear indication of the strength of feeling amongst our members.
“Despite months of negotiation Bristow’s management has failed to listen to employees and offer a fair and reasonable pay deal.”
Bristow has bases in Sumburgh and Norwich as well as Aberdeen and provides search and rescue (SAR) operations for the coastguard in addition to operating heli transport flights for offshore workers.
The helicopter operator has a contract until December 2026 to provide SAR operations for His Majesty’s Coastguard. Around 360 people are employed via this contract, according to Bristow’s website, and are mobilised from 10 SAR helicopter bases across the UK.
It is unclear how any potential strike action will impact Bristow’s SAR operations, however it’s understood those who work in this service are also involved in the dispute.
A Bristow Helicopters (NYSE: VTOL) spokesperson told Energy Voice: “We are extremely disappointed by the outcome of this ballot and that, despite Bristow tabling an improved offer in a bid to avoid strike action, staff were not given an opportunity to vote on that offer before being balloted to participate in strike action.
“We believe our latest offer is highly competitive and remain committed to working collaboratively with BALPA to arrive at a fair and sustainable agreement that recognises the hard work and commitment of our team and to avoid unnecessary strike action.”
Members reportedly arrived in force to vote for the strike action, with BALPA reporting a 92.74% turnout.
Ms Leversidge added: “They provide vital search and rescue services and transport workers to the oil and gas rigs in the North Sea.
“For years, our members have remained loyal to Bristow enduring pay freezes and cuts while they were in difficult times.
“It is unreasonable for Bristow to expect their helicopter pilots and technical crews to continue with austerity pay at a time when the company is booming and it is BALPA members who are at the heart of that success.”
‘A resolute message to Bristow’
The general secretary concluded: “Industrial action is always a last resort and none of our members want to be in this position but clearly enough is enough.
“Our ballot result today sends a resolute message to Bristow that their pay offer must be improved.
“We strongly urge Bristow to listen to what their workers are telling them loud and clear and get back to the bargaining table with BALPA and give our members a fair and reasonable pay offer.”
Meanwhile, the helicopter sector is also battling a major parts shortage, with Bristow chief executive Chris Bradshaw last year bemoaning “significant delays” for spare parts for S-92 helicopters.
Mr Bradshaw explained that the shortage was causing logistical challenges in areas like the UK North Sea.
Bristow said it would be putting more helicopters on contract “generating more revenue and cash flows” in the UK North Sea and Gulf of Mexico if it had more “serviceable S-92s” available.