Socialist Worker

Unofficial strike on the North Sea rigs: send solidarity

by Raymie Kiernan
Issue No. 2500

Offshore workers protested in Aberdeen earlier this year

Offshore workers protested in Aberdeen earlier this year  (Pic: James Furie)


Offshore workers downed tools yesterday, Friday, on energy giant Shell’s North Sea Shearwater platform in fury at the announcement of another round of job losses in Shell’s Brent oil field.

For some of the workers, employed by major oil and gas contractor Wood Group, it was the third such cuts announcement they’ve faced in less than 12 months. It was a cut too far for many.

One worker involved in the wildcat action told Socialist Worker, “We have started the ball rolling. We’ve come together and joined the union, which in this case is Unite as the recognised majority union in the company.

“The news has got out to other Shell platforms and the Gannet, Brent Alpha and Brent Bravo have now gone down the same route.”

Meetings are now being held to place demands on the bosses raising the threat of further industrial action.

More than 75,000 jobs have been axed as bosses used the downturn in oil prices as cover to shed jobs, impose longer shifts with less time off, threaten safety and keep profits flowing.

Serious incidents are becoming more frequent as bosses also cut back on basic maintenance work. 

Activists argued at the time the shift patterns were imposed that it wouldn’t stop there, and despite official guarantees of a maximum 21 days offshore some work close a month.

Benefits

In a letter to the Brent field workers bosses told them that their terms and conditions were “unaligned with current and predicted market conditions”.

“As a consequence any supplementary payments and benefits,” the letter declared, were “to be removed with effect from June 18 2016.”

Bosses’ relentless drive for profit means more workers and their families are to be sacrificed.

Defiance of Shell from offshore workers

Defiance of Shell from offshore workers


Rank and file activists have been frustrated by a lack of action from unions. The current action in the Brent field is the way to do it – if officials don’t lead, members must set the example. And spreading it to other platforms could turn the tables on the bosses.

Industrial action against the new contracts failed to break through last year.

Historic sweetheart deals gave some unions exclusive recognition agreements. This, combined with a lack of leadership from current officials, has led to compromise with the bosses that are using a system of outsourcing to attack workers’ conditions.

Wood Group is a serial offender. It axed 8,000 jobs last year but despite headlines of a slump in profits the “good old Calvinistic Scottish company” revelled in its £100 million profit.

Bob Keiller, the former chief executive of Wood Group who oversaw the job cuts, was handed a £477,346 gift when he left the firm in December 2015.

Its shareholders were looked after with a 10 percent rise in dividends and promised “a double digit percentage” increase for 2016. And “unprecedented” volatility in oil prices didn’t stop Shell making an obscene £2.6 billion profit last year.

Offshore unions recently took a step forward towards united resistance with the formation of the Offshore Coordinating Group but it needs to be more than just a talking shop.

Harry, an offshore union activist said, “Workers have had enough. We've been kicked, punched and cut for the last time. The lads are in their third consultation in 12 months, with reductions in manpower and terms and conditions to the minimum requirement.

“Employers should take note. We are coming for you and we will shut your operation down and attack your reputation. 

“The rest of the North Sea will follow suit eventually.”

Send messages of solidarity to furiejames@yahoo.co.uk


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