Aberdeen-headquartered Stena Drilling has lost a legal case over “mass layoffs” on a North Sea rig but vowed to take its fight further to Norway’s Supreme Court.
The country’s Court of Appeal has ruled that the vessel owner’s termination of Norwegian crew members of the Stena Don in 2018, including 78 SAFE union members, was in breach of employment rules, leaving the company open to compensation claims.
However, in response, the East Tullos-based business has now promised to push ahead with a further contest at the country’s highest court.
The rig had around 180 people on board at the time, according to SAFE, largely made up of its members and those from the Industri Energi union (IE).
It comes after the Stena Don was moved from Norway to Invergordon in Scotland in 2017 ahead of a UK contract, which Stena argued required workers from its existing fleet, rather than the Norwegian crew, under UK employment laws.
Stena said it believes it “made every attempt at the time to look after the rights of the employees” in accordance with UK and Norwegian laws.
Chief executive Erik Ronsberg said: “At the time we had to make the awful decision to lay off the crew of the rig.
“Post cold stacking the rig, we were very fortunate to get a drilling contract in the UK North Sea, but in accordance with UK law, had to use crew within the existing Stena fleet to re-man the Stena Don.
“The Norwegian Unions claimed that the Norwegian crew should have all got their positions back on the rig, but this was not possible and after a legal bout in Norway, the court found in Stena’s favour.
“We were very surprised this week that an appeal court had overturned this judgement and we are now taking legal advice prior to appealing this ruling further at the Supreme Court in Norway.”
The Stena Don had been working in Norway for Equinor, then Statoil, until its contract at the Troll field was cut short in October 2016.
The rig spent the next year hot-stacked in Norway before moving to Invergordon in winter 2017 ahead of the UK work.
SAFE successfully argued the business transfer did not justify the termination of workers through the Court of Appeal under Norway’s stringent employment laws.
Following the move to Scotland, the IE union also became embroiled in a dispute with Stena in March 2018, who, like SAFE, have been engaged in a legal wrangle with the firm.
After refurbishment in Orkney, the Stena Don went on to drill at Total’s Glendronach discovery West of Shetland in May 2018.
SAFE’s federal leader Hilde-Marit Rysst said: “It shows that you should not just accept what the companies say. There are laws and agreements that must be followed, and that is determined by the legal system.
“Again, it is clear that by being a trade union, you get help to win.”
Wayne Pena, a former Stena Drilling employee, from IE, said around half of those terminated were from his union.
He said: “Both trade unions travelled to Aberdeen to meet the Managing Director to try and convince the company to not make the mistake we saw them about to make. They did not heed our advice.
“Statistically only 15% of cases submitted to the Norwegian Supreme Court are accepted, so it remains to be seen if Stena appeal and the outcome of that.”