Clair Ridge platform; Source: BP

Offshore drillers embarking on strike action at BP’s two platforms in UK waters

UK’s Unite the union has confirmed that nearly 100 offshore workers employed by Odfjell Technology, which are working on BP’s two platforms in the UK sector of the North Sea, have backed strike action to secure paid leave away from the current three on/three off working rota.

Clair Ridge platform; Source: BP

Unite the union confirmed last week that a group of offshore workers was set on taking industrial action in a dispute over rotas and pay with 96 per cent supporting strike action in a ballot turnout of 73 per cent. The strike action will involve a series of 24-hour stoppages to be announced, however, Unite has warned that industrial action could escalate to an all-out strike. 

Furthermore, two of BP’s North Sea platforms – Clair and Clair Ridge – are now expected to have their drilling schedules heavily impacted by the strike action. The UK union explains that the mandate for industrial action follows Odfjell’s refusal to provide paid annual leave for periods when the drillers would otherwise be offshore, “leaving the drillers at a disadvantage” as other offshore workers are entitled to paid leave as part of their working rotas. 

Sharon Graham, Unite general secretary, remarked: “Unite’s Odfjell drillers are ready to take their employers head on. The oil and gas industry is awash with record profits with BP recording profits of £23 billion for 2022 more than double that for 2021. Corporate greed is at its peak in the offshore sector but the workforce are seeing none of this coming into their pay packets. Unite will support our members every step of the way in the fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

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In addition, Unite members voted by 97 per cent to support action short of a strike, including a total overtime ban limiting the working day to 12 hours, no extra cover provided during scheduled field breaks, and the withdrawal of good will pre and post tour briefings, preventing handovers between shifts.

Vic Fraser, Unite industrial officer, commented: “Unite has an emphatic mandate for industrial action from our members. For years contractors like Odfjell and operators like BP have said offshore safety is their number one priority. Yet, they are still treating this group of workers with total contempt. These jobs are some of the offshore sector’s most manually demanding roles but Odfjell and BP don’t seem to understand or are unwilling to listen to the health and safety concerns of our members.

“Only last week, without any consultation never mind agreement from their staff, Odfjell and BP made unilateral changes to the drillers crew. This will now mean some offshore staff working anything from 25 to 29 offshore days in a row. It just beggars belief and our members are determined to fight for a better working environment.” 

The UK union says that Odfjell Technology recorded profits of £2.64 million in 2021 up from £2.15 million in 2020. Bearing in mind the record high profits energy players made in 2022, Unite last week blasted the UK government for its “inaction”  on taxing oil firms as BP posted the biggest profits in its history for 2022. BP’s bonanza profits came after Shell reported earnings of £32 billion, bringing the combined total profits of the top two energy companies in Britain to a record £55 billion. 

After the release of BP and Shell’s profits announcements gave rise to calls for windfall taxes on energy producers’ global profits from opposition politicians and union leaders, Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) warned that these calls for new windfall taxes on global profits were misleading, as such a levy risked breaching global tax agreements and so could never be implemented.

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As a reminder, the union in late August 2022 called the UKDCA to engage in further negotiations to find a solution as offshore drillers and contractors were being balloted on strike action.