The background for this action was that the catering contract held by Eurest Support Services (ESS) on Statfjord was due to expire in March 2000, and the company was competing with Universal Kelvin for a new assignment. Should a new contractor get the job, the catering staff wanted Statoil to guarantee that all permanent ESS employees would retain their jobs in the new company.
They also demanded that almost 50 permanent stand-in staff be assured of a job, and that personal insurance policies held by ESS would be taken over by a possible new contractor. Twelve people had been declared redundant when Universal Kelvin took over the catering job on the Ula, Gyda and Valhall fields earlier that year.
The Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions (OFS) and the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef) – traditionally bitter rivals – stood shoulder to shoulder in this conflict. They rallied to the defence of dismissed colleagues on the oil fields further south, while simultaneously expressing fears of further redundancies on Statfjord if a new contractor took over.
The unions maintained that Universal Kelvin had failed to observe the EU’s business transfers directive when taking over the contracts. Pursuant to these regulations, it was obliged to take over the existing workforce. Employee rights were also supposedly protected under Norway’s Working Environment Act, which specified that business transfers were not a valid ground for dismissal.
The safety delegates on Statfjord also stood by the catering workers, and maintained that the redundancies on the other oil fields were wrongful. In a letter to Statoil and the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD), Universal Kelvin – a major group – was characterised as an unreliable employer. The safety delegates declared that they would refuse to deal with the company if it took over on Statfjord.
The catering service was a labour-intensive operation. Since pay accounted for no less than 70 per cent of its cost, a contractor stood to make big gains by cutting jobs. According to the safety delegates, however, the drawback was that, as the most recent downsizing had already shown, this exacted its price in the form of worryingly high sickness absence.
ESS and the employees had already joined forces on a tough and expensive “slimming course”, a programme where the NOK 24 million cost had been borne 50-50 by the two sides in return for guarantees over the remaining jobs.
Statoil twice postponed the award of the important catering contract, which finally went to ESS.
Bergens Tidende, 9 November 1999. “Truer med Statfjord-streik”.
Bergens Tidende, 10 November 1999. “100 Statfjord-ansatte streiket”.
Dagens Næringsliv, 11 November 1999. “Knekkebrød for oljeansatte”.