UK: Offshore catering workers vote for industrial action
The article has been amended to include a statement by COTA ( 16:34 pm CET, October 22, 2015)
Delivery of catering and ancillary services on rigs across the UK Continental Shelf could be stopped, as the workers employed by the offshore caterers are getting ready for an industrial action against their employers.
The workers are protesting against the Caterers Offshore Trade Association’s (COTA) decision to freeze the previously agreed wages increase. COTA, which employs around 3000 people, has cited low oil prices and a need to cut costs in a difficult market environment as the main reason behind the decision.
Unite, one of the UK’s largest workers’ unions, on Wednesday said its members voted over a decision to go on a strike action over the pay dispute. The Union has also urged employers under the Caterers Offshore Trade Association (COTA) agreement to return to the negotiating table.
The COTA ballot closed on the Wednesday, October 21, and according to Unite the results are: 54.2% of members voted for strike, and 62.7% also voted for action short of strike against the employers.
Below is a definition of what strike, and action short of strike mean, according to Unite’s Industrial Action Guide:
“Strike action itself is the withdrawal of labour, either for a discontinuous period of one or more days with breaks in-between or for a continuous period of time. Action short of a strike can involve many other actions such as; working to contract or ‘to rule’, refusing to cooperate with your employer by completing paperwork or using company phones, refusing to work overtime beyond contractual hours or rest day working.”
Unite said that next steps would be determined shortly by the union with a dispute certain to affect catering and ancillary services across all installations operating in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).
The Caterers Offshore Trade Association (COTA) represents six companies which supply catering and auxiliary staff to offshore platforms in the North Sea – Aramark, Entier, ESS, FOSS & ESG, Sodexo and Trinity International Services.
Running out of time
Unite Regional Officer John Boland said, “The result shows that the majority of our COTA members are not prepared to sit-back and let employers worth billions revoke their pay agreement – the 1.3 per cent required to settle this dispute is mere drop in the ocean for companies like Sodexo.
“We are not blind to the significant challenges facing our industry, our members have been at the coal-face of the downturn from the start, but it sets a dangerous precedent for employment rights if companies are able to impose change without negotiation and that’s why we are looking at a strike scenario.
“We are disappointed the employers have chosen not to resolve this matter amicably and the door remains open for discussion, whether it’s face to face or through the auspices of Acas, if they want to avoid serious disruption to catering and ancillary services across the North Sea but we are rapidly running out of time.”
He said: “Our member companies are already being forced to make redundancies and we simply cannot expect our businesses to remain competitive if we continue to increase wages. We believe a pay freeze is fair, particularly when UK inflation is in negative territory at -0.1% and many other companies are cutting pay. “
“We understand workers’ frustration at the original deal being retracted but we believe that employers and employees need to pull together at this challenging time if we are to secure the long term future of the industry and ensure there continue to be well paid offshore jobs for decades to come.”
“Strike action can only do damage to that goal and we hope that employees will support us by voting no in the ballots.”
The Unite COTA branch has established a Strike Committee who will meet again to further discuss tactics regarding the industrial action.
COTA: Pay freeze is fair
Offshore Energy Today reached out to the COTA for a comment, as the association has not issued an official statement regarding the latest Unite move. We will update the article with any response.
The COTA on October 16 issued a statement urging the workers to vote against the proposed strike action or action short of a strike.
Peter Bruce, chair of the Caterers Offshore Trade Association, on Friday said: “Our message to the workforce is that if you don’t support the industrial action proposed by the unions you need to cast your vote.
Update: COTA statement, October 22, 2015
The Catering Offshore Trade Association (COTA) has sent the following response to Offshore Energy Today:
Peter Bruce, chair of the Caterers Offshore Trade Association, said: “We are very disappointed with the outcome of the Unite ballot. However, we note that only 250 people have voted in favour of strike action out of a total workforce of over 3000.
“RMT’s ballot closes on Tuesday 27 October. We strongly urge all RMT members who are employed by our member companies to make their voices heard. Our message to them is that if you don’t support the industrial action proposed by the unions you need to cast your vote.
“We understand workers’ frustration at the original pay deal being retracted but we ask them to remember that the economic climate is very different now to the one in which we agreed that deal. Strike action can only threaten the long term sustainability of our industry and jeopardise jobs. We urge workers to remember that if Unite does call on you to take strike action no one is obliged to participate.
“We have detailed contingency plans in place to deliver at least a basic service to our clients and will do all we can to keep installations open throughout any strike. We will be keeping in close contact with all our clients as the situation progresses.”