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Norwegian Government enforces compulsory arbitration in oil and gas dispute

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12 July, 2012Norwegian labour minister, Hanne Bjurstrom, forced the dispute in the country’s oil and gas industry into arbitration at 23:30 on 9 July, just half an hour before the country's oil companies planned to lock out offshore oil and gas workers.

On 5 July, the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) had announced the intended lockout for all members of the unions Industri Energi, SAFE and Lederne. The parties will now meet in the national wage arbitration tribunal that will make a binding decision in the on-going labour dispute.

A lockout of the more than 6,500 workers covered by offshore pay agreements would have caused a complete shutdown of oil and gas production in Norway, the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter and second-largest gas exporter, supplying much of Western Europe’s energy needs.In May the country produced 1.6 million barrels of oil per day, and 8.9 billion cubic metres of gas. The combined sectors account for over one-fifth of Norway’s gross domestic product and half its exports.

Over 700 Norwegian oil workers began strike action on 24 June in support of demands for the maintenance of a voluntary early retirement pension. Initially the strike affected around 11 per cent of the country’s oil output and around 4 per cent of its gas production and involved workers at 8 Statoil-operated installations – the Oseberg field centre, Oseberg South, Oseberg East, Oseberg C, Heidrun, Huldra, Veslefrikk and Brage. A lockout would have shut down the entire continental shelf and severely affected other companies with substantial exposure to Norwegian production relative to their size including France’s Total, Italy’s ENI and Shell.

Speaking from Oslo on 11 July, Leif Sande, President of the IndustriALL affiliated, Industri Energy (IE), Norway’s largest oil workers union stated that, “The companies wanted compulsory arbitration and now they have it. However what does this say about the right to collective bargaining and the right to strike in our country?” He continued by emphasizing that the main problem had been the companies’ unilateral intention to withdraw a previously agreed voluntary early retirement scheme that allowed workers to retire with an acceptable pension, if they wished to do so, at the age of 62. Not every worker is physically capable of working 14 consecutive 12 hour shifts on an offshore installation in the arduous and potentially hazardous conditions of the North Sea. Adding insult to injury senior executives at Statoil continue to be eligible for retirement at 62, with the CEO widely reported as being entitled to a pension of over 4.5 million NOK when he reaches this age.

The Norwegian government’s anti-union intervention in the strike occurred not long after the right to strike came under sustained employer attack at this year’s International Labour Conference.The Norwegian government can and has forced an end to strikes before in this industry, arguing that safety is being compromised or vital national interests could be harmed and in doing so it has drawn criticism from the ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association (CFA). The ILO has ruled that restrictions on or prohibition of the right to strike can only be accepted in the public service or in essential services in the strict sense of the term, that is to say services the interruption of which would endanger the life, personal safety or health of the whole or part of the population.”

IndustriALL General Secretary, Jyrki Raina, has written to our affiliate expressing strong support to their on-going struggle for a voluntary early retirement scheme.