War of words erupt over offshore pay talks, strikes loom on horizon

Trade unions representing North Sea workers in pay negotiations have clashed in another war of words with the organisation representing offshore employers.

Unite and the GMB unions have been in a long standing dispute with the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA), which represents firms like Petrofac, Wood Group PSN and Stork among others.

Union members have twice rejected a 2% pay increase and yesterday (TUE) Unite served notice informing the OCA that it was going to ballot members for official strike action.

The OCA claim trade unions are “refusing to engage” in talks.

But Unite is seeking a “significant wage” increase for members, along with improved sick pay and paid travel time to an employer’s onshore base.

Paul Atkinson, chief executive of the Offshore Contractors Association, said: “Our offer guarantees that basic pay will be linked to inflation up to 2019 ensuring that wages keep pace with the cost of living.

“We believe that our offer balances the need to reward employees while supporting the requirements of each OCA member company and our collective overarching aim; to ensure job opportunities in the North Sea now and in the long-term.

“It is extremely disappointing that the trade unions are refusing to engage with us on the the issues that matter to their members.

“We will continue to do all we can to avoid any disruption. Industrial action will only serve to make investment in the North Sea less attractive and jeopardise the long-term future of the industry.”

The OCA claim its efforts to reach a workable settlement have been “stalled” by officials from Unite and the GMB, who have “consistently refused to engage with them in reaching any settlement”.

In a consultative ballot, 81 per cent of Unite members voted to reject the latest deal put forward.

This is the second pay offer rejected by members.

Back in December, 85% of Unite members voted to reject a previous OCA proposal that it was claimed would have seen no increase in their pay and no improvement to their terms and conditions.

Unite, the biggest UK offshore union, responded last night to the repeated 2% pay offer by accusing the OCA of “spin over substance”.

Unite regional officer John Boland said: “Our members are growing angry over the behaviour of the OCA employers. Last week, we went to talks with them at ACAS, and they told us that they didn’t have the right people there to negotiate, and asked us to explain our pay claim – even though they’ve had it for months. They then had the brass neck to issue a press saying they were disappointed with the outcome.

“If we are going to settle this dispute, we need substance, not spin. Until we get genuine commitment from the OCA to improve their offer, we will continue to act on our members’ wishes, and give them the chance to have a say on possible industrial action, including strike action.”

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