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The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain

De-recognition dangers

UNIONS in the North Sea oil and gas industry are opposing bosses who are attempting to de-recognise unions in these dangerous industries. Companies involved with the Offshore Contractors Partnership Agreement (OCPA) have announced that they will terminate the agreement at the end of June.

Employers say the oil majors are engaging competing companies operating outside of the OCPA or any collective bargaining structures. For example, BP has recently handed major contracts to Sparrows and Bilfinger, and Total has announced they will engage PBS. Unions note that there is growing evidence of other operating companies engaging contractors who sit outside the long-established collective bargaining structures.

The three unions, GMB, Unite and RMT, have condemned the decision and consider the actions of industry to be at odds with the industry’s self-proclaimed principles, saying: “This move illustrates a complete disconnect from the principles being promoted by the Oil and Gas Authority around appropriate commercial behaviours and the Vision 2035 concept.”

The unions also question the actions of several operators in respect of their adherence to the ‘standards’ set out in the Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) {Economic Report 2019} and specifically the {Supply Chain Principles}, which says: “Tender processes and evaluations should be based on value-added rather than unit rates and be flexible to evaluate alternative offers as part of the bidding process. To support respective labour agreements in place across the workforce, operators should agree clear rate escalation mechanisms and move away from the practice of fixing labour costs for multiple years.”

Dominic Pritchard, the industry’s GMB National Organiser, said: “The actions of major industry players are contrary to the principles being promoted by the industry and the regulators.

“This undermines the work we have been doing with OCPA and others to develop a strategy for the future which is sustainable and provides security of employment for workers.

“We will be discussing the legality of these contractual changes in terms of TUPE, as we would suggest the collective agreement should remain in place with a transfer.”

Unite Regional Officer John Boland warned: “The break-up of long established bargaining arrangements and the awarding of contracts to organisations out with collective agreements is a backward step. We fail to see how this approach can improve efficiency and productivity, as it will inevitably add costs in terms of contractual arrangements and interfaces,” before concluding that: “The impact on our members will be concerns around insecurity and uncertainty and this will inevitably affect the morale of the workforce.”

Last but not least, RMT Regional Organiser Jake Molloy added: “We hear so much about collaboration and building for the future, and then we get this. It strikes me that many of the industry forums we participate in are either pointless or completely disengaged with the reality of what is happening on the ground. The trade unions have spent the last four plus years changing the industrial relations landscape with a view to delivering outcomes which should support the industry, the workforce and the nation.” Referring to the plan, he added that: “It is described as Vision 2035, but it appears some are keen to drag us back to a vision of 1980.”

Employers long-resisted unionisation and only relented after a number of serious disasters.

The unions also warned of the dangers of a “race to the bottom on terms and conditions and the inevitable impact that would have on health and safety”, and stressed the need for a “closer working relationships with industry as the climate crisis debate continues. We await the response of industry.” About 6,500 workers will be affected.

The decision essentially spells the end for the Offshore Contractors’ Association (OCA), whose members include Aker Solutions, Petrofac, Stork and Wood. Set up in 1995, the OCA negotiates with trade unions on workers’ terms and conditions on behalf of member companies. The association was undermined in 2016, when Bilfinger Salamis left the group and Sparrows Group followed suit last year.