[LONDON] The UK's North Sea oil industry is risking a strike for the first time in more than two decades as job cuts and shift changes sap morale, the biggest trade union for offshore energy workers said Wednesday.
"We're witnessing, with concern, a move to industrial conflict in the North Sea," Tommy Campbell, regional industrial organizer for the Unite union, told a parliamentary hearing in London. "People have lost their jobs; those that have stayed have reluctantly accepted changes, but some changes are a bit too far."
Oil companies in January began implementing a three-week offshore, three-week onshore rotation that they said was aimed at boosting efficiency and reliability. Unions claim the change jeopardizes safety. Industrial action by workers in the North Sea, the center of UK oil production for the past 40 years, would pile pressure on companies already facing escalating costs and dwindling profits after crude prices collapsed.
Offshore workers employed by the UK's John Wood Group Plc on Royal Dutch Shell Plc platforms said last month they were giving "serious consideration" to industrial action over pay and conditions.
Oil & Gas UK said in September that 65,000 jobs supported by the offshore industry had been lost since the start of 2014, including direct roles, supply-chain positions and others that benefit from the sector. Job cuts will continue this year, Deirdre Michie, chief executive officer of the lobby group, said at Wednesday's hearing.
The UK's last major strike in the offshore oil industry was triggered by the deaths of 167 workers in a fire on the Piper Alpha rig off Aberdeen, Scotland, in 1988. In the Norwegian part of the North Sea, oil-rig worker unions avoided a strike last year after a deal was reached in wage talks.