Field versus company
The redundancy notices were issued on the “first in, last out” principle. This meant about 80 per cent of those affected worked on Statfjord because they had the lowest seniority in the company. Catering personnel on the field went on strike from midnight on 1 September in protest against the sackings. They demanded that length of service on Statfjord should weigh more heavily than seniority in the company.
The Norwegian Oil and Energy Employees Association (Noemfo – previously the Norwegian Oil and Gas Employees Association/NOGMF) and the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef) sharply criticised the strikers. Both the local officials and central leadership of these unions maintained that it was seniority in the company which should count in the event of redundancies. They regarded this as an issue of principle, and felt that the rules on seniority could not change from case to case. On the other hand, the strikers received great sympathy from other employees on Statfjord. They returned to work after one day so that the unions could begin negotiations.
Formal talks were conducted between Nopef and the Norwegian Employers Confederation (NAF), where the union presented three demands – the company seniority principle should apply (against the wishes of the workforce), a scheme for sick replacements (which would also reduce the need for redundancies) should be adopted and none of strikers were to be dismissed. An agreement was signed by union and employer, but the workers were not satisfied with the outcome of the negotiations and direct action resumed immediately after the deal was agreed. Nopef urged its members in no uncertain terms to return to work, and both it and Noemfo stuck to the view that the strike was illegal under Norwegian labour practice and in breach of collective agreements.
The stoppage restricted the provision of meals on the field, with the strikers preventing new supplies being taken on board. Sanitary conditions eventually became so poor that the safety representatives had to send people ashore. Production shut down and the number of platform personnel was reduced to a minimum required to maintain safety. All 112 strikers were dismissed.
Informal talks were conducted throughout the stoppage between the Norske Chalk management and the strike committee. Just before midnight on 7 September, the strikers accepted a compromise proposal presented by the company leadership and went back to work.
All dismissals prompted by the conflict were withdrawn and Norske Chalk guaranteed that nobody would take any form of action against the strikers. Furthermore, a rotation scheme would be instituted which ensured that employees previously declared redundant would be retained through partial lay-offs instead. In addition, the company established permanently employed replacements for sick workers, which also meant that a number of the redundancies could be withdrawn.
The demand that time on a field should have priority over seniority in a company was withdrawn, in part because operator Mobil guaranteed that it would work to ensure that employees in Norske Chalk would have work on Statfjord regardless of which company secured the catering job. When Norske Chalk’s contract for Statfjord expired on 1 February 1984, it lost out to SAS Catering. But the latter gave the previous contractor’s personnel on the field a prior right to work for it.
The new contract ran for much longer than Norske Chalk’s two-year engagement. That led to more stable working conditions for the catering workforce.
Ryggvik, Helge, et al. Norsk Oljehistorie. Volume 3. Oslo 1997, pp 257-270. Various Norwegian newspaper reports, 1 September to 28 November 1983.