By Simon Basketter
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Bilfinger bosses threaten to sack offshore workers joining a ‘wage revolution’

Years of anger over low pay spilled over on offshore platforms in the North Sea
Issue 2806
An oil rig in the North Sea

Offshore workers are fighting for higher pay (Picture: Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

Bosses have responded to a wave of unofficial strikes across oil platforms in the North Sea by threatening to sack their workforce.

A letter from subcontractor Bilfinger gave workers till Friday afternoon to commit to returning to work. The strike by Bilfinger workers, which started last Tuesday at Elgin platform 150 miles off Aberdeen, spread across 16 installations. Workers for subcontractor Wood, among many others, joined the strike.

One worker Adam said the action—which “needed to happen for a very long time”—involved “thousands” of workers”. They “wanted £7 to be added to their basic rate an hour”. “Our goals are to bring the wage back up to where it would have been if we didn’t have all of these dark times,” he said.

He said the atmosphere on Total’s Elgin platform was one of “anger, disappointment, and frustration. It’s been exhausting”.

An offshore worker on the Britannia platform told Socialist Worker, “The walkouts spread over the last two days. On the platform I’m on, workers stayed out for the day shift and night shift for two days. Bilfinger has a fair amount of workers here so that means little work was done except safety-critical stuff. 

“At one point it looked like it might spread to other service companies, but that never materialised. There was some talk of picketing the helicopter deck to stop crew changes, but that wasn’t taken seriously. It’s a pity as that would have stopped management coming out yesterday for talks. It could and should have spread much further.”

Bilfinger stopped workers’ pay on Tuesday. And then on Thursday Bilfinger announced its decision to join the Energy Services Agreement (ESA) following the strikes.

The ESA is an agreement on minimum pay and conditions covering 5,000 offshore workers agreed between the GMB, Unite and the RMT unions and 14 employers. Its purpose is to maintain “stability and certainty on a substantive cost element for the industry and investors”. 

Unite in a weasely statement said, “Bilfinger UK and Unite are now requesting all workers return to normal working practices on the basis both parties will enter into talks through the ESA framework to discuss issues of mutual concern which has led to the current industrial unrest of the workforce.”

In contrast, workers believe this was a move to ensure Bilfinger did not have to alter the pay rates. Messages circulated among workers say, “The wage revolution has started. We are not singling out one company but industry worldwide as a whole. The cost of living has gone up dramatically and wages on the other hand have gone down—or stalled—dramatically.

“2016 was the start of the stalling wages offshore. Oil alone is sitting at $100-plus a barrel at the moment. There is more money being made onshore in most trades at the moment than working offshore.

“The bonuses and uplifts are nearly finished at a time when industry profits are at an all-time high. Most in the industry are on zero-hour contracts, they can send you on your way at any moment.”

While some workers apparently may return to work, the “wage revolution” on the rigs is far from over.

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