Company unions on Statfjord A

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Company unions are basically an American phenomenon, which has traditionally been regarded in Norway as a divisive and egotistical way of organising workers. They are an integral part of their company, a collaboration body between management and workforce.
— Snøvær på Statfjord. Fra boligplattformen Polymariner med Statfjord A i bakgrunnen. En mann går forbi et skilt der det står "Røking forbudt, no smoking, prohibido fumar". Foto: Leif Berge/Equinor
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Such associations are organisationally tied to the employer, which means they are not independent or affiliated with other unions. That conflicts with the Norwegian – and to some extent European – understanding of what a union is.

Several company unions emerged on Norwegian North Sea installations during the 1970s. Statfjord had two of them. The one which attracted most attention was the Statfjord Workers Union (SaF), which was established as the Statfjord Committee in 1976 on the model of the Ekofisk Committee founded two years earlier.

Although starting as a company union confined to Mobil employees, the SaF quickly moved away from the concept as understood by Americans and was not in the company’s pocket.

It became obstinate and independent, willing to both strike and campaign. That marked the beginnings of a new union system in Norway. Several of the offshore company unions developed into grass-roots movements which challenged both the companies and the Norwegian collective bargaining system.

Another “union” found on Statfjord during the construction phase was the Offshore Employees Organisation (OEO). This was Brown & Root’s own body, founded and run on the American model and widely regarded as a tool for workforce oppression.

Membership and payment of union dues were obligatory for foreign workers hired in by one of Brown & Root’s subsidiaries.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Smith-Solbakken, Marie; Oljearbeiderkulturen. Historien om cowboyer og rebeller. Trondheim 1997: 153 It was known as the “ghost organisation”, since the members never saw any sign of it. The only evidence that the union existed was a USD 3.05 deduction for dues on the pay slip once a fortnight.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Asenjo, Augustin; Norsk olje, spansk svette. Pax forlag 1979: 45 No membership card was issued and the union had no address.

According to Brown & Root, the OEO was intended to provide welfare and insurance arrangements for its employees. To get taken on, “Latin” (Spanish, Portuguese and South American) workers had to sign two documents – a contract of employment with Brown & Root and an enrolment form for the OEO. The latter was unquestionably controlled by Brown & Root, which appointed the union officials itself.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Smith-Solbakken, Marie; Oljearbeiderkulturen. Historien om cowboyer og rebeller. Trondheim 1997: 285The OEO was formed on the corporatist model, where the interests of employers and employees are protected by a common organisation. It was established by Brown & Root so the Norwegian authorities could see that the Latin workers had their own union to safeguard their interests on pay and working conditions.

Published November 14, 2019   •   Updated November 19, 2019
© Norsk Oljemuseum
close Close

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *