UK-Norwegian treaty on StatfjordStart-up, initial production and first cargo

Union officials resign

person Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The joint elected officials and safety representatives for the Statfjord Workers Union (SaF) resigned their positions on 20 October 1979. They were protesting that Mobil was spinning out negotiations over working conditions.
— Statfjord A and the floatel Nortrym. Photo: Odd Noreger/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

Their main complaint was the lack of response from the operator to a set of working environment issues submitted to it as the employer. This list embraced 13 items, including the action plan for Norwegianisation which Mobil had promised to present in order to eliminate “the Yankee despotism” on Statfjord.

The SAF wanted to know whether Norwegian or American working practices were to apply on Norway’s continental shelf (NCS). Other issues were employee representation on the company board and pension arrangements for the two women widowed by the previous year’s helicopter accident.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norges Handel og Sjøfarts Tidende, 20 October 1979. Tillitsmenn nedlegger verv.  Neither were covered by the pension plan.  Moreover, the union reacted negatively to the fact that Mobil and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) had permitted breaches of the rule that only 200 people were allowed to live on the A platform at any one time. Pay conditions also influenced the decision to take action. Mobil had refused to negotiate on new increases because the government had introduced a wage freeze in 1978 which was still in force.

For its part, the SaF wanted to start talks so that agreement could be reached on possible rises to be implemented as soon as the freeze was lifted. According to the union’s chair, Per Kristoffersen, it was only seeking small adjustments to compensation payments.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Klassekampen, 22 October 1979. Ny storkonflikt på Statfjord A?

Not surprisingly, Mobil took the view that the accusations against it were unjustified. The company’s attitude was that pay talks could not start before it knew what further action the government would be taking. It admitted that the other issues had dragged on, but said it was working on solutions.

Getting worker directors onto the board was not an easy process. The issue could not be resolved simply by the Norwegian arm of Mobil agreeing to new board representation. This also had to be cleared with the top management in New York.

Where the widows’ pensions were concerned, the company’s defence was that its whole pension scheme was to be reassessed. The plan was that all new employees would automatically be enrolled in the same scheme. Mobil maintained that the widows had received a certain level of pension but that, if the new scheme was accepted, they would receive the full payment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Aftenblad, 25 October 1979. Mobil vil møte Statfjord-ansatte.

For its part, the NPD maintained that it was not possible to resign as a safety representative during a pay dispute. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority (NLIA) also took the view that employees had a duty to participate in safety work, but that it had no means of intervening in such circumstances.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Aftenposten, 22 October 1979. Verneombud går av, forsinkelse truer.  According to the Ministry of Local Government and Labour, resigning as safety representatives contravened Norway’s Working Environment Act.

Both Mobil and the NPD characterised the resignations as an illegal action, but this approach was supported by the SaF. Although nine joint safety representatives and union officials resigned along with three pure safety representatives, work on Statfjord A continued as normal.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Aftenblad, 23 October 1979. Fortsatt aksjon på Statfjord A.

The dispute took a new direction on 27 October, when the executive committee of the SaF lodged three formal complaints with the police over working conditions on Statfjord A. One was against the NPD for directly or tacitly acquiescing in continued operation after the safety representatives had resigned, and thereby in a breach of the system which the Working Environment Act assumed was functioning.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Aftenposten, 27 October 1979. Arbeiderne på Statfjord går til politianmeldelse.

In addition, the union maintained that the NPD had tacitly accepted that an excessive number of people were living on the platform. The regulations stated unequivocally that 200 was the maximum, but the daily reports to the regulator clearly showed that up to 220 were staying there at a time.

The other two complaints were directed at Mobil Exploration Norway for breaches to the prevailing safety regulations and for conditions of an “internal nature”.

“We have long sought to get Mobil to understand that many of the jobs which production personnel are required to do are very risky and go far beyond the acceptable level,” Kristoffersen told Aftenposten. “But our approaches to Mobil have either been rejected or spun out endlessly.”[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ibid.. One of the operations under way at the time was testing of the first two wells.

The SaF had set 2 November as the deadline for starting negotiations and finding a solution, or the two sides could end up in the Industrial Disputes Court.

The upshot was that the NPD ordered Mobil in a letter to appoint new safety representatives if the workers refused a request to withdraw their resignations. The Working Environment Act stated clearly that the employer was duty-bound to ensure that the safety service functioned. But the employees were also duty-bound to accept appointment as a safety representative and to remain in office throughout the period they were elected for.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Rasmussen, Hilde (ed.). Arbeidskonflikter i norsk oljevirksomhet . Rapport Rogalandsforskning RF 73/89.

UK-Norwegian treaty on StatfjordStart-up, initial production and first cargo
Published November 28, 2019   •   Updated December 12, 2019
© Norsk Oljemuseum
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