Unions call off offshore strike ballot

Willie Wallace from Unite leaving a meeting at Holiday Inn on Chapel Street.
Willie Wallace from Unite leaving a meeting at Holiday Inn on Chapel Street.

Trade unions have shelved plans for a strike action ballot over North Sea working conditions following negotiations with industry bosses today.

The Unite union said the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA) tabled an improved offer for offshore workers during the latest round of talks in Aberdeen.

Unite regional officer Willie Wallace, said: “Today’s talks have been constructive and we have made enough progress to be able to put an improved offer from the OCA to our membership.

“It’s for them to decide if this offer is good enough.”

The OCA, which represents UK oil and gas contractors, welcomed the move and urged oil and gas workers to accept the offer for the good of North Sea industry.

OCA chief executive Bill Murray, said: “We welcome that union officials have decided not to go to an industrial ballot over changes to shift and holiday patterns and are instead consulting with members on today’s discussions.

“We hope that union members can support today’s offer so we can move forward and ensure that the industry is best placed to prevent further redundancies and secure future investment in the UK North Sea.”

The move draws a line under a dispute between the OCA and the Unite and GMB unions that has dragged on for months.

Both sides had been at loggerheads over oil and gas companies’ efforts to cut costs by tinkering with shift patterns, sick pay and leave entitlement.

Industry chiefs said companies had to make changes to stay afloat amid the oil price downturn, but unions argued that switching to “equal-time” rotas would lead to a slide in working standards.

When talks broke down earlier this year, offshore workers from both unions overwhelmingly backed plans for an industrial action ballot following a month-long consultation.

Hopes for a compromise continued to linger, however.

While the unions batted down an offer said to be worth between “£1,600 and £8,000” last month, they refused to close the door on the possibility of an agreement being reached if the OCA improved its offer.

A spokeswoman for industry body Oil and Gas UK said: “Tonight’s news is very welcome indeed and we hope an acceptable outcome for all parties can be reached quickly.

“To secure the future of the industry, its important that we resolve issues by working together – companies, workforce, regulator, unions and government.”