UNIONS fear oil giant Shell will use a “scab labour force” working in dangerous environments to break strikes after North Sea workers voted “overwhelmingly” to take action for the first time in a generation.
The joint action by RMT and Unite, which represent Wood Group employees working on Shell North Sea operations, is the result of threats from the company to impose “swingeing wage cuts” of up to 30 per cent on an already “battered and bruised workforce.”
But the unions’ offshore co-ordinating group (OCG) chair Tommy Campbell said that he was “extremely concerned” to hear Shell was considering using agency workers in safety critical roles such as platform helicopter decks and as deck crew during any action.
He said that there were “serious safety issues” associated with using temporary staff offshore, and said that OCG will notify pilots’ union Balpa and seafarers’ union Nautilus to be “vigilant in the event that agency staff are deployed in safety-critical posts.”
He said called on Shell to use its “considerable influence to persuade Wood Group to back off with its wage cuts and help bring an end to this dispute.”
Both unions won a huge mandate for strike action, with Unite members voting 99.1 per cent and RMT members voting by 98.5 per cent in favour of action, and smashed the Tories’ draconian ballot threshold, with Unite getting a turnout of 86.6 per cent and RMT 67 per cent.
Mr Campbell said that the high turnout “speaks volumes about the determination of these trade union members to defend their terms and conditions and halt the race to the bottom.”
Unite regional officer John Boland warned that Shell’s move to “engage a scab labour workforce” to cover strikes was “extremely disturbing” and called on Shell to respect the workforce’s right to take industrial action.
RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy said that workers had had enough when expected to take a huge pay cut on top of “two rounds of redundancy, the imposition of an additional four to five weeks of work annually” as well as “the increase in workload and the restrictions on leave.”
A date for action is yet to be confirmed.
Unite members at an oil refinery in Southampton staged a 24-hour strike over foreign staff being paid less than half that of British nationals.
Around 20 specialist workers, mostly Italians and Bulgarians, employed by Italian company Nico, are being paid around £48 for a 10-hour day, while other on-site staff covered by national and regional agreements are earning around £125 a day.
Unite regional officer Malcolm Bonnett said: “Unite won’t stand by and see foreign workers being ripped off in such a grotesque manner.”