Offshore trade unions have condemned contractors’ plans to abandon a key UK North Sea collective bargaining agreement.
GMB, Unite and RMT confirmed employers had signalled their intent to terminate the Offshore Contractors’ Partnership Agreement (OCPA) later this year.
The move would impact about 6,500 workers and spell the end for the Offshore Contractors’ Association (OCA), whose members include Aker Solutions, Petrofac, Stork and Wood.
The most recent version of the deal was accepted by workers in January 2019.
Set up in 1995, the OCA negotiates with trade unions on workers’ terms and conditions on behalf of member companies.
The association was undermined when Bilfinger Salamis left the group in 2016. Sparrows Group followed suit last year.
Unions said oil and gas production companies awarding major contracts to non-OCA members was one of the main reasons for the impending break-up.
They accused operators of ignoring “supply chain principles” set out by trade body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) last year. The principles were aimed at providing a more level playing field after years of suppliers having their margins squeezed.
Unite regional officer John Boland said he hoped the OCPA could be kept alive and that other contractors could be encouraged to sign up. But Mr Boland acknowledged there was a real threat existing OCA members would serve notice in June to terminate the agreement.
He said the unions were “preparing for all circumstances” and warned the situation could get “messy” if companies dissolve the OCA, with industrial disputes likely.
A senior industry source said contractors and operators were committed to maintaining engagement with trade unions and hoped to deliver a resolution which protects workers’ terms and conditions.
The OCA said it had started a conversation about a “broader adoption” of the agreement.
Union bosses questioned the logic of offshore contractors’ threat to move away from the agreement.
Mr Boland said scrapping the deal would “inevitably” drive up costs as more contractual agreements would have to be negotiated to fill the void.
He said the agreement was a useful tool for comparison, adding that non-OCA members use it as a “baseline” for setting their own rates.
In a joint statement, Unite, GMB and RMT said they were ready to work with all industry stakeholders to build a new model which would protect workers.
They said: “The trade unions want to avoid the potential for a race to the bottom on terms and conditions and the impact that would have on health and safety.
“The trade unions have emphasised the importance of working with the wider industry to avoid the mistakes made in the past with fragmented contractual structures.
“We equally see the importance of closer working relationships with industry as the climate crisis debate continues.”
RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said dissolving the OCA would go against the collaborative spirit industry has been trying to promote.
He said: “We hear so much about collaboration, and building for the future and then we get this.
“It strikes me that many of the industry forums we participate in are either pointless or completely disengaged with the reality of what is happening.
“The trade unions have spent the last four plus years changing the industrial relations landscape with a view to delivering outcomes which should support the industry, the workforce and the nation.
“It is described as “Vision 2035”, but it appears some are keen to drag us back to a vision of 1980.”
GMB national organiser Dominic Pritchard said: “The actions of major industry players are contrary to the principles being promoted by the industry and the regulators.
“This undermines the work we have been doing with OCPA and others to develop a strategy for the future which is sustainable and provides security of employment for workers.”