ETAP in North Sea; Source: BP

Battle for work-life balance continues, as workers gear up for strike action across multiple UK offshore platforms

As the crusade for a better work and life balance gains momentum, more industrial action is looming over the UK’s offshore energy sector, with workers backing up strike action due to disputes over working rotas, which have not been settled with IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited. This wave of strike action will hit several platforms operated by BP, TAQA, CNR, Repsol, Serica, and CNOOC.

ETAP in North Sea; Source: BP

In January 2024, the UK’s Unite the union was setting the wheels into motion to ballot over 50 members in the offshore sector by holding industrial action ballots at IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited due to – what was said to be – the companies’ failure to improve jobs, terms, and conditions of their workforce.

Vic Fraser, Unite’s Industrial Officer, commented: “Unite has attempted to get both IES Callenberg and SGS to listen to the concerns of our members with no success. In fact, IES Callenberg has gone even further by banning its staff from discussing with clients or the offshore installation manager the very nature of the dispute.

“The disputes are not only about rates of pay but the current working rota of three weeks on and three weeks off. Our members work all year round but their training is carried out during their field breaks. This leaves our offshore members disadvantaged compared to onshore staff which is unacceptable.“

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Around 60 members in the offshore sector – including chemists, heating, and ventilation engineers – have now cast their votes in favor of strike action in disputes over working rotas. In line with this, the IES Callenberg members supported strike action by 82.8% on a 72.5% turnout.

The dispute encompasses around 50 offshore workers who provide heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services on offshore platforms operated by BP, TAQA, CNR, Repsol, Serica, and CNOOC. These workers will take three-day strike action over three months, including March 25 – 27, April 15 – 17, May 6 – 8, and May 27 – 29.

On the other hand, the SGS UK Limited members of Unite backed strike action by 89% on a 100% turnout. The chemists, who are servicing BP’s platforms – Clair, Clair Ridge, ETAP, and Glen Lyon – will take week-long strike action over a series of months, thus, the industrial action will take place on March 25 – 31, April 15 – 21, May 6 – 12, and May 27 – June 2.

According to Unite, the workers’ fight for a better work and life balance is at the heart of both disputes, thus, the UK union has drawn attention to the growing number of workers in the offshore sector, which are recording concerns over physical and mental burnout, fatigue, and stress due to staff shortages. 

Moreover, the IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited members, who work 12-hour shifts for three weeks at a time, are required to conduct any training during their field breaks while onshore staff employed by both companies are not required to take training during their holidays.

SGS UK Limited made £27.6 million (currently nearly $35.32 million) profit after tax in 2022 and amassed over £51 million (around $65.26 million) in profits over the last four years while IES Callenberg increased its turnover to £12.5 million (almost $16 million) and reported £461,693 (about $590,711) in profit after tax in 2022, more than double the profit in the previous year.

Sharon Graham, Unite’s General Secretary, highlighted: “Unite will stand shoulder to shoulder with our members employed by SGS and IES Callenberg. These are profitable companies which must start treating workers fairly.

“Our offshore workers are fully prepared to fight to get the improved terms and conditions they deserve. We will ensure that our members are backed all the way in the campaign to secure better jobs, pay and conditions in the offshore sector.”

Unite also showed its determination to help tackle the offshore rotation disputes and enable its members to secure an improved work-life balance by throwing its support behind more than 100 offshore drillers, who voted unanimously in favor of industrial action and a continuous overtime ban.

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However, things took a turn for the better shortly after, culminating in the UK union‘s confirmation that the dispute was settled, following a new working rotation for these offshore drillers.