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Norway union in worker plea at Ekofisk

Industri Energi chiefs say practice of employing foreign workers on poorer conditions for North Sea decom job has to end

A Norwegian workers union has demanded that authorities put a stop to the use of foreigners working under poorer working conditions than other offshore personnel employed on ConocoPhillips' platform removal project at the Ekofisk field.

Upstream reported in late June that ConocoPhillips’ plan to remove four ageing platforms from Ekofisk could be derailed by federal authorities over working conditions for personnel hired by heavy-lift player Heerema Marine Contractors (HMC) from Asian staffing agencies.

Norwegian workers unions are calling on the authorities to ensure that labour conditions on the project are in line with Norwegian law.

“It is insane that people are payed less than Nkr40 ($4.50) an hour working 12 hours every day for 12 weeks in a row with decommissioning of platforms that have made billions of kroner for Norwegian society and oil companies,” said Ommund Stokka, area manager for the Industri Energi union.

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He said whistleblowers are using descriptions like “cannon fodder” to explain the situation for workers from the Far East on units such as Hereema’s crane vessel Thialf, adding that the whistleblowers themselves are nervous about the potential consequences of complaining to union officials.

According to Stokka, whistleblowers have insisted on communicating with the union solely through encrypted text messages.

“This has to stop. It is a matter of the oil industry’s reputation. We cannot allow abuse of foreign workers," he said, pointing out that several platform removal projects are scheduled to take place in the Norwegian sector in the years to come.

 The main contractor on the project offered the following response when contacted by Upstream: “Heerema Marine Contractors has a worldwide agreement in place that certifies that all contracts are acceptable to the international Transport Workers' Federation (ITF). This agreement meets the requirements of the ITF and its offshore oil and gas policy and complies with the MLC06. It also goes without saying that HMC will comply with Norwegian legislation in this respect and for this project.”

Norway’s Petroleum Safety Association (PSA) said in 2013 that all activity on board fixed platforms are regulated by Norwegian law. However, Norog, the country's employers’ association for oil and service companies, disputes this position. It argues that personnel working temporarily on board a fixed platform in connection with its removal should be subject to international maritime law.

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“This is in line with ordinary practice where a worker rotates geographically between different regulations,” a Norog spokesperson told Upstream.

Stokka disagrees: “It is obvious to everyone that welders, scaffolders, riggers and electricians are conducting their main work tasks off the Thialf, and Norwegian law is clear that all activity conducted on oil and gas installations are regulated by the Norwegian Workers Environment Act (WEA) and petroleum regulations,” he said.

In addition to the moral aspect of using labour to conduct decommissioning work on different terms than others in the oil and gas industry, Stokka argued that there is a significant safety issue related to the situation.

“Working 12 hours a day for 12 weeks in a row exhausts people and it will have an impact on safety,” he said, arguing that the WEA requires safety representatives to ensure that workers are granted necessary rest.

Industri Energi claimed that the PSA, in a recent meeting with the union, provided assurances that it had not changed its view on the regulations and that it will conduct an audit on Thialf and the decommissioning of the four Ekofisk platforms.

In 2013 the PSA issued a notice of order to ConocoPhillips for breaking working-hour regulations for 80 personnel hired by Hereema.

PSA declined to comment on the current dispute when approached by Upstream, as it still has not received an application for the activities from operator ConocoPhillips.

The only comment provided by the US oil company was that activities on Thialf are regulated by international maritime law. 

Upstream has learned that there are currently about 30 riggers, 30 welders and 20 scaffolders — mostly from the Philippines and India — on board the Thialf in connection with the Ekofisk decommissioning work. 

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