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Victory for drilling workers

person By Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Broadly speaking, the offshore workforce was organised in 13 unions and two national federations – the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) and the Norwegian Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS).
— Drilling started at Statfjord A. Personnel from Loffland Bros. in action. Photo: Odd Noreger/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

The LO embraced seven of the 13 unions, and the YS only one. In addition, three belonged to the Cooperating Organisations (DSO) and three company unions on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) belonged to the Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions (OFS).

Employer associations in the oil sector were weak. The North Sea Operators Committee (NSOC-N) had changed its name to the Norwegian Industry Association for Operator Companies (Nifo) as part of a Norwegianisation process, but remained only an advisory body for the operators. The Norwegian Operator Companies Employers Association (Noaf) had also been established but – like Nifo – did not belong to the Norwegian Employers Confederation (NAF) and acted as an advisory body.

   Drilling workers were the first group of employees to exploit divisions among the operators. In their pay battles, Nopef initially targeted drilling contractors who were not members of the NAF and demanded local negotiations.

   As early as January 1980, employees at Reading & Bates Drilling Co secured a 20 per cent pay rise. This put pressure on the other drilling contractors, who were members of the NAF.

   Loffland Brothers Ltd, responsible for drilling on Statfjord A, joined forces with Morco A/S and Dolphin Services AS to refuse to take part in local negotiations or to give local pay increases. Instead, they stuck to the NAF’s policy of restraint. The NAF maintained that pay rises for the drillers would entirely disrupt the nationwide collective bargaining process.

   This stance led to “illegal” strikes on Statfjord, Ekofisk and Frigg – first a two-day stoppage, and then one lasting 12 days. Morco on Ekofisk was the first to yield, and began talks without consulting the NAF. The drillers once again achieved a 20 per cent rise. That made continued resistance by the other contractors impossible.

   The OFS was responsible for the big 1980 strike as part of its efforts to become a national union. It had been founded as a loose alliance between the company unions established by operator employees on Statfjord, Ekofisk and Frigg – the SaF, the Ekofisk Committee and Eanof respectively – and was originally known as the Collaboration Committee for Operator Unions (which also used the OFS abbreviation).

   Operator employees initially negotiated separately with their employers, but the OFS adopted new statutes in 1979 which aimed to strengthen collaboration. The goal was a collective pay agreement for all operator employees. This meant in turn that the OFS had to fight to be recognised as a national organisation with the right to negotiate pay deals.

   These efforts were opposed by both the Labour government under prime minister Odvar Nordli and the LO. But the OFS was willing to fight, and took its members out in a six-hour “political” strike. This involved virtually all operator employees on Statfjord A.

   The OFS continued to meet opposition but, when it threatened to call a general strike, the government caved in and recognised it as a national body with collective bargaining rights. It changed its name to the   Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions.

   After its victory over recognition, the OFS demanded immediate negotiations with the operator companies on the establishment of a main agreement on pay and conditions and a pay deal, in line with Norwegian labour market practice. The three companies concerned – Mobil, Phillips Petroleum and Elf Aquitaine – agreed to talks, but the two sides were a long way apart.

   Countless meetings were held at the Office of the National Mediator during the early summer of 1980. But all oil and gas production on the NCS was halted by a legal strike at midnight on 3 July. The OFS had called the stoppage in support of its demands for a separate main agreement and pay rises for its members.

   For once, the government refused to intervene in the conflict during its first phase. It was not until 18 July that the dispute was referred for compulsory arbitration. The National Mediator did not concede a pay increase for operator employees, but the main demand of the OFS for common working hours and tour/shift arrangements was accepted.

Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO) Norwegian Confederation of Vocational Unions (YS) Cooperating Organisations (DSO) Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions (OFS)
Norwegian Seamen’s Union (NSF) Norwegian Oil and Gas Employees Association (NOGMF) Norwegian Association of Ships Masters Statfjord Workers Union (SaF)
Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef) Norwegian Maritime Officers Association Ekofisk Committee
Norwegian Iron and Metal Workers (NJMF) Norwegian Union of Marine Engineers Elf Aquitaine Norge Offshore Association (Eanof)
Norwegian Federation of Supervisors and Technical Employees (NFATF)
National Union of Electricians and Power Station Workers (NEKF)
Norwegian Union of Building Industry Workers (NBIF)
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Published December 2, 2019   •   Updated December 12, 2019
© Norsk Oljemuseum
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