Scotland: North Sea oil industry workers escalate strike action

Unite's north sea members on strike (Picture Unite Scotland Facebook page)

Around 1,650 contractors across five companies are due to strike in June in the North Sea. The planned action is for two 48-hour strikes starting June 1 until June 3 and then June 8 to June 10.

Unite say: “The planned action includes electrical, production and mechanical technicians in addition to deck crew, scaffolders, crane operators, pipefitters, platers, and riggers working for Bilfinger UK Limited, Stork Technical Services, and Sparrows Offshore Services.”

Unite general secretary, Sharon Graham, said: “With the support of their union Unite, an army of 1650 offshore workers are taking the fight to multibillion oil and gas corporations. The latest rounds of strike action in June will see the biggest group of offshore workers to date taking strike action.

There have been two previous rounds of strikes in April and May of this year that saw 1,300 oil workers across the North sea engaging in a 48-hour strikes over pay and working conditions bringing platforms to a standstill.

For the June strike action operators to be hit include Apache, BP, Harbour Energy, Enquest, Ithaca, Repsol, Shell and TAQA.

Socialist Party Scotland gives our full solidarity to these workers taking action.

Profits up

In the past year, the profits of the oil companies have rocketed, whilst pay for oil workers has stagnated. Shell and BP alone have made a combined profit of £55 bn! A 4% pay rise was expected in January, however, even this measly amount, which falls far below the current rate of inflation, has been withheld by the oil fat-cats. Under such conditions, oil workers have had no option but to turn to industrial action.

However, the strikes are not just around pay, but holidays, working rotas and safety on the rigs as well. The general anger was summed up well by Unite general secretary Sharon Graham when she said: “Unfettered corporate profiteering at the expense of our members will not go unchallenged. Unite is determined to deliver better jobs, pay and conditions in the offshore sector, and deliver we will.”

The main parties have all remained largely silent on the ongoing industrial dispute. Starmer’s Labour, intent on keeping politicians off picket lines, have said nothing in support of striking workers in the North Sea, neither has the Scottish Labour leadership.

There has also been silence from the SNP. The SNP, much like the Tories, are closely tied to the oil companies. Between 2018 and 2022, Scottish ministers met with the oil bosses on 212 occasions. 

Whilst the SNP talk of reinvesting the oil profits back into Scotland in order to cut fuel bills, they offer no programme for how this can be achieved. The only way to effectively challenge rising energy bills is to take the oil and gas sector out of private hands and into public ownership, under workers’ control and management.

This would also mean an end to the profiteering in the North Sea, allowing the workforce to have control over pay, shift patterns and health and safety and aiding a workers’ transition to renewable energy.

Socialist Party Scotland stood as part of the Scottish Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) in the 2021 Scottish parliament election. TUSC were the only organisation standing who made call for the nationalisation of the entire oil and gas sector.

A Unite report released in May revealed that companies made £45 billion profit from the UK domestic energy system in 2022. If that money had been kept in public hands, it could have been used to save each household £1,800 on their energy bills by freezing prices before the recent massive hikes.

Socialist Party Scotland and TUSC fully support the strike action taking place and urge all socialists and trade unionists to offer their solidarity in what could be a very significant industrial dispute this summer.

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June 2023