This represented a response to a letter issued by the Directorate of Taxes in April, which specified that offshore personnel on fixed installations would be taxed on the benefit of free board and lodging – amounting to NOK 23 per day.
The catering workforce on Ekofisk was enraged. They were already a low-pay group offshore, and a tax deduction of this kind would have a bigger impact on them than on other North Sea personnel.
They threatened to strike unless new pay talks were held to correct for the tax change. A stoppage by catering workers could lead to a full production shutdown. Personnel on Statfjord and Frigg expressed support for the Ekofisk employees and promised to join any possible strike.
The letter from the tax authorities came on top of other conditions which the catering workers viewed as discriminatory treatment. They were the only group of offshore employees who did not receive compensation for the helicopter flight to and from their work, and they were also denied the same benefits for the inconvenience caused by a long journey from their homes.
Finance minister Per Kleppe called both the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef) and the Norwegian Oil and Gas Employees Association (NOGMF) to a meeting on 10 May. Afterwards, the finance ministry requested that the tax authorities abstain until further notice from requiring employers to make advance deductions for or taxing free board and lodging. The strike threat was accordingly withdrawn.
Income tax rules for the North Sea petroleum industry were part of the remit for the seafarers’ tax commission of 1976, which presented a sub-report on the issue in the summer of 1979. This recommended no change to the way offshore workers were taxed.
But the last word was not thereby said. On 31 May, the NOGMF again issued a strike warning for personnel serving on the Polymariner and Nortrym flotels on Statfjord. This deadline was later postponed to 1 July.
The union stated that the strike would go ahead unless the Norwegian Offshore Association, as the employers’ association for the rig owners, agreed to negotiate a collective pay agreement for those of their employees who belonged to the NOPGMF.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Haugeunds Avis 23 April 1979. Streik på plattform? However, the employers wanted to confine such agreements to the traditional maritime unions, such as the Norwegian Seamen’s Union and the Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers. They also maintained that there was no point in negotiating as long as a pay freeze was in force in Norway.
The NOGMF’s Odd Paulsen responded: “I find that argument completely unacceptable. We aren’t demanding higher pay for those concerned. We’re demanding that they secure the right to join the union of their choice and to establish a collective agreement on pay and conditions.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: 22 May 1979. Streik på Statfjord A?
At the same time, the union warned that all activity on Statfjord A except production drilling and safety was in grave danger of being affected by the strike. It claimed that catering personnel on Statfjord organised in the NOGMF had resolved to strike in sympathy if the conflict was not resolved.The dispute over the loading buoyStatfjord B GBS out of the dry dock