Working environment committee for MobilHelicopter crash in 1978

Union versus union in catering conflict

person By Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The Norwegian Oil and Gas Employees Association (NOGMF) had made it clear during pay talks that it was ready to call its members out on strike from 9 June 1978..
— Catering personnel at Statfjord A. Photo: Odd Noreger/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

These negotiations covered North Sea catering workers, whose pay had lagged behind that of other offshore groups. Nor – unlike these others – did they have the right to local pay bargaining.

The NOGMF represented employees of Christiania Dampkjøkken on Statfjord A, while the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef) organised catering workers on Ekofisk and Frigg. Competition between these two unions over offshore members developed into a bitter conflict during the pay talks in the spring  of 1978.

Bergens Arbeiderblad described the heated mood in the first week of June: “An official from the [NOGMF] union in the Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) has been on the platform and urged illegal strike action directed at the government should mediation fail and the dispute be referred to compulsory arbitration”.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Bergens Arbeiderblad. May 1978. Cateringpersonalet på Statfjord bondefanges til streik av YS-forbund.

A further episode which soured relations between Nopef and the NOGMF occurred on 4 June, when John Erik Roth, a Nopef official, was due to fly out to Statfjord A and inform members about the union’s stance in the negotiations about to begin with the Norwegian Employers Confederation (NAF).

The visit had been cleared in advance, but Rogalands Avis could report: “Roth was called at the airport by base manager Thommasen at Ågotnes outside Bergen who reported that the NOGMF officials on Statfjord sent their greetings and said that they did not want Roth to come out and provide a briefing on Nopef’s position.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rogalands Avis. 5 June 1978. Bjartmar Gjerde vil be om orientering om saken. 
Roth did not fly out, and petroleum and industry minister Bjartmar Gjerde regarded the affair as so serious that he requested full details about what had happened.

The Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) had called in the spring of 1978 for national pay negotiations, and Nopef as an LO union found its hands were tied by this approach. But such restrictions did not apply to the NOGMF.

During its talks with the NAF, Nopef had secured an agreement that pay and conditions for offshore catering personnel would be examined in more detail in separate talks on 14-15 August that year. The NAF had admitted that distortions existed in the pay system.

However, the NOGMF refused to accept the Nopef-NAF proposal, the talks collapsed and the dispute was referred to mediation in line with Norwegian collective bargaining practice. This failed to resolve the dispute, and the NOGMF issued its strike threat.

Two days before the workers were due to down tools, the government decided to submit the issue to compulsory arbitration. This was the first time that approach was specifically adopted for North Sea operations, on the grounds that a lengthy conflict would have damaging consequences.

The National Wages Board found that catering personnel in the NOGMF should receive a pay award of 1.43 per cent or NOK 1 040 per annum. This was in line with the offer from the NAF.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Aftenposten. June 1978. Ingen frokost på Statfjords A.

Conflict not over

Following the board’s decision, wildcat strikes and other action broke out in the North Sea. Nobody on Statfjord A was served breakfast on Saturday 9 July because the catering staff had staged a demonstration stoppage from 05.00 to 07.30.
 This action had been unanimously approved by a general meeting of Christiania Dampkjøkken employees. It was a reaction to what the workers called superficial treatment of an occupational group by the government.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ibid .

Representatives of catering personnel who belonged to the NOGMF met Christiania Dampkjøkken and the NAF on the evening of Monday 11 July, where agreement was reached on a negotiating process. The NAF signalled that it would be open to giving pay increases by establishing new occupational titles.

In the meantime, Nopef had secured agreement that pay and conditions for catering personnel would be discussed in separate talks during August. A broad-based committee drawn from Nopef, Christiania Dampkjøkken, the NAF and union officials would deliver a recommendation on this issue by 14 August.

“The result of all the fuss is now that the NOGMF negotiators must sit alongside the Nopef negotiators at the same negotiating table on 14-15 August,” Stener Brenden, chief executive of Christiania Dampkjøkken, told Rogalands Avis on 26 July. “And the union can thank Nopef for these talks.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rogalands Avis, 26 July 1978. Bittert nederlag for Paulsen og Co. 

He also said that the NOGMF, a “yellow” or independent union, had been offered the same terms which LO union Nopef achieved without negotiations, but had turned it down. Brenden was clearly fed up with the NOGMF’s refusal to follow the normal rules which governed employer-union relations in Norway.

“We’re dismayed that it’s possible to take illegal action on such a slender basis,” he commented. “They say these actions are directed at the decision of the National Wages Board, but they have themselves chosen to allow the settlement to end up there.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ibid . 

Agreement was finally reached through negotiation that catering workers would receive a monthly pay rise of NOK 1 000, or about 20 per cent.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Johannesen, Terje. Kampen om oljearbeiderne. NOPEFs historie.  Stavanger 2009. A letter of intent would also secure them the same income development as other groups of offshore workers.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Smith Solbakken, Marie. Oljearbeiderkulturen. Trondheim 1997, p 242.

Working environment committee for MobilHelicopter crash in 1978
Published November 26, 2019   •   Updated December 11, 2019
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