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North Sea revolt grows as Unite announces plans to ballot 700 Bilfinger workers

BP's Clair Ridge platform in North Sea west of Shetland
Clair Ridge is one of the North Sea platforms that could be affected by strike action by Bilfinger workers. Image: BP

The wave of offshore industrial unrest that has dogged the North Sea for much of the last year doesn’t appear to be letting up.

Unite confirmed over the weekend that more than 700 workers employed by Bilfinger UK will be balloted on strikes in a dispute over pay.

The union is demanding an increase above the base rate of pay set in the Energy Services Agreement (ESA) for 2022, and for this to be back dated to last July.

A collective bargaining agreement, the ESA sets minimum pay and conditions for around 5,000 North Sea workers.

Last year, a 4% uplift in wages was agreed through the pact, due to be paid in January 2023, but Unite alleges that is yet to come to pass.

oil workers energy strategy

It is accusing Bilfinger of refusing to increase pay beyond the ESA base rate, at a time when the UK is in the midst of a cost-of-living crisis.

The union also claims the offshore contractor has “not implemented any pay award and allowance uplifts” that were also agreed in November.

Bilfinger said rate rises would be enacted soon, as well as being backdated.

A spokesman for the company added: “Bilfinger UK joined the Energy Services Agreement in May last year, and are aligned with ESA base rate pay.

“Efforts to date to address pay concerns have been via the ESA.

Bilfinger ‘disappointed’ by Unite

“We’re disappointed Unite has raised a dispute with Bilfinger directly on base rate pay as this potentially risks undermining the ESA.

“We will continue to work with Unite to find a resolution that will best support our employees and their families.”

He continued: “The January rate increase and allowance uplifts agreed in November will be implemented in the coming weeks and backdated for employees.

“We appreciate our employees’ patience over the time it has taken to complete the necessary processes for its implementation.”

Bilfinger joined the ESA in the wake of wildcat strikes, with workers having downed tools on installations across the sector.

From Friday, workers will be able to vote on whether or not to down tools, in a move that could impact swathed of North Sea platforms. The ballot will run for a month.

Action could hit multiple platforms

Any strike action and an overtime ban is expected to take place from early April following a successful ballot result.

Unite claims a number of a number of the basin’s largest oil and gas operators will be impacted should the ballot go through.

All in all, the union believes any strikes will hit production and planned work on almost  40 installations, with hundreds of tradespersons not completing planned work.

Sharon Graham. Photo by Tayfun Salci/ZUMA Press Wire/Shutterstock

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, said: “The UK’s oil and gas operators and contractors are being served with record numbers of industrial action ballots. There is one simple reason why this is happening – corporate greed.

“Companies like Bilfinger have refused to pay attention to the concerns of our members by offering a decent and fair pay rise. Unite will continue to fully support all our members fighting back for good jobs, pay and conditions across the offshore sector.”

Unrest continues

Unite has been a vocal critic of the UK Government’s “inaction on taxing oil firms”, particularly in the wake of many majors posting record takings for 2022.

This latest offshore dispute at Bilfinger is part of a wave of industrial unrest hitting the United Kingdom Continental Shelf (UKCS), with Unite involved in a series of the disputes.

Later this month the union will ballot around 300 Stork construction members on strikes as part of an industrial dispute over rotas and pay.

Should it go through, Unite claims around 30 offshore installations will be impacted.

Firms staff costs

Shauna Wright, Unite industrial officer, said: “Unite has served notice on Bilfinger because our members feel that their voices and concerns have not been heard.

“We will now ballot more than 700 workers across nearly 40 offshore installations where Bilfinger UK Limited has a presence.

“This development comes after months of failed attempts by Unite to get Bilfinger to increase pay beyond the ESA base rate.

“Our members are angry and they have had enough. It’s time Bilfinger paid their workforce what they deserve before a wave of industrial unrest hits the UK Continental Shelf.”

Bilfinger has been contacted for comment.

A full list of the offshore installations Unite claims could be hit by strikes:

Alba North, Andrew, Arbroath, Auk, Bleo Holm FPSO, Brae Alpha, Britannia, Captain FPSO, Captain WPP, Clair, Clair Ridge, Claymore, Clyde, Cormorant Alpha, East Brae, Eider, ETAP, FPF1, Fulmar, Glen Lyon FPSO, Harding, Jade, Jasmine, Judy, Leman Alpha, Montrose, Ninian Central, Ninian South, North Cormorant, Piper Bravo, Seafox 4, Sean Papa, Solan, Sole Pit Clipper, Tartan Alpha, Tern Alpha, Tiffany, and Unity.