Clair Ridge platform; Source: BP

Strike action threatens to engulf workers on multiple offshore platforms in UK waters

With more workers expected to cast their votes over the next few weeks, the wave of disputes over working rotas is spreading across the UK’s offshore sector. As offshore workers ponder whether to go on a strike in a bid to improve their work-life balance, industrial action looms over multiple platforms operated by BP, TAQA, CNR, Repsol, Serica, and CNOOC.

Clair Ridge platform; Source: BP

Currently, the UK’s Unite the union is in the process of balloting over 50 members in the offshore sector – covering chemists, heating and ventilation engineers – by holding industrial action ballots at IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited. The union explains that these companies failed to improve the jobs, terms, and conditions of the workforce.

Sharon Graham, Unite General Secretary, highlighted: “These disputes center on the demand by workers at both companies to have the same holiday and working patterns as onshore shift workers. Unite will stand shoulder to shoulder with our offshore members and they have our full support in their fight for better jobs, pay and conditions.”

While the IES Callenberg dispute involves over 40 offshore workers who provide heating, ventilation, and air conditioning services on offshore platforms operated by BP, TAQA, CNR, Repsol, Serica, and CNOOC, chemists who provide services to the offshore oil and gas industry employed by SGS UK Limited are also being balloted on industrial action.

However, the SGS UK Limited dispute centers exclusively on chemists servicing BP’s platforms the Clair, Clair Ridge, ETAP, and Glen Lyon. Both ballots, which are now open, are slated to close on February 22. These disputes spotlight the workers fighting for a better work and life balance.

According to Unite, its members in the offshore sector are increasingly recording concerns over physical and mental burnout, fatigue, and stress due to staff shortages. The IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited members work 12-hour shifts for three weeks at a time. On top of this, they are required to conduct any needed training during their field breaks.

Vic Fraser, Unite Industrial Officer, underlined: “Unite has tried to get the companies to listen to our members’ concerns. The overriding concern driving these disputes is that workers at IES Callenberg and SGS UK Limited currently work a three weeks on and three weeks off rota.

“However, all required training must be carried out during their break. This situation is unacceptable and it needs to be addressed as a matter of urgency. If not, our members will be forced to take strike action, or they will simply leave the companies.”

While SGS UK Limited made £27.6 million (nearly $35.1 million) profit after tax in 2022 and amassed over £51 million (around $64.83 million) in profits over the last four years, IES Callenberg increased its turnover to £12.5 million (almost $15.9 million) and reported £461,693 (about $586,920) in profit after tax in 2022, more than double the profit in the previous year.

The widening of the offshore working rota disputes comes only days after around 100 offshore workers, employed by Odfjell Technology and working on Equinor’s platform in the UK sector of the North Sea, decided to embark on strike action to secure improvements to working rotas.

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The strike action will entail a series of 24-hour strikes taking place every Monday, Wednesday, and Saturday for 12 consecutive weeks, starting on Monday, January 29, and ending on Saturday, April 20, with a continuous overtime ban in place throughout the 12-week period.