Saipem has been accused by the Norwegian workers' union Industri Energi (IE) of violating the country's regulations on workers' rights in the operation of remotely operated vehicles on the Norwegian continental shelf.

IE claimed that, during a meeting before Christmas at the Italian contractor's office in London, it discovered documentation that showed that subsidiary Saipem Ltd - the responsible subsidiary in Norway - has systematically avoided Norwegian law and trade agreements in the country after it let most of its Norwegian personnel go in 2017 and 2018.

Oil service agreement supervisor for IE, Wayne Pena, told Upstream that Saipem Ltd has used operators of ROVs from a pool of 150 operators stationed abroad who did not have the same workers’ rights as Norwegian offshore workers.

The union refers to this practice as "social dumping".

“The practice has harmed our members in other oil service companies that provide ROV services on the Norwegian continental shelf. This is a direct form of social dumping,” Pena told Upstream.

Saipem Ltd, in a written statement sent to Upstream after it was presented with the accusations from IE, said: "Saipem Ltd strongly rejects the accusations made by Mr Wayne Pena and furthermore also rejects any allegation of social dumping.

"All posted workers have been paid a salary on a 'Norwegian' level and the use of UK-based employees was fully in line with the principles of free movement within the EU/EEC.

"In all our correspondence with the union we always confirmed our availability to engage with them in a professional and transparent manner."

IE's Pena claimed Saipem Ltd is just one of several companies that are conducting social dumping in Norwegian operations.

“I will not go out with other names yet because we want to give them a chance to make changes to the way they operate,” he said. But he added that IE intends to publicly identify several other companies in the coming weeks.

Pena said IE is identifying Saipem at this stage as the union feels it has given the company sufficient time to address the issue.

Companies operating on the Norwegian continental shelf are required to have systems that record working hours, separating normal working hours and overtime hours — whether that be daily, weekly or annually. According to Pena, such systems are not in place at Saipem Ltd.

According to Norwegian regulations, the consecutive period spent by a worker offshore should not exceed 14 days, but it can be extended by seven days for a single period and then only in cases of exceptional and temporary need, after consultation with elected employee representatives.

“In Saipem Ltd we can see that there are several 21-day trips offshore for a number of employees. And no explanation is given as to why a person was on the rig for 25 days," Pena said.

"We also found a case where a person was first on board an installation in Egypt for an extended period of time. Then he traveled directly to Norway and worked offshore for 14 days. He was at work for at least 35 consecutive days, possibly even more,” he said.

Pena also alleged that operators that have used Saipem Ltd's services on the Norwegian continental shelf have failed to hold the company to account on the issue and should themselves take responsibility.

"The same goes for regulators who should follow up companies operating under the radar and only employ posted workers on a rotational basis," said Pena.

Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) has established detailed regulations for safety and the working environment in the industry. It also has supervisory responsibility for regulations and practices on the shelf.

A PSA spokesman said that the agency did not have knowledge of this case, and that it, therefore, cannot comment on IE’s specific allegations.

“In general, every single company involved in petroleum-related activities on the Norwegian shelf is obligated to follow regulations. There are laws that must be followed,” he said.

The spokesman also said that operators of Norwegian oil and gas fields has overall responsibility for ensuring that the business is conducted in a responsible manner and in accordance with the regulations.

“Operating companies are obligated to ensure that all supplier companies comply with the requirements of the regulations and conduct sound business," he said.

Njord field: the Njord A platform off Norway Photo: OYVIND NESVAAG/EQUINOR

Norway’s largest operator, Equinor, in October awarded Saipem Ltd a 10-year contract for ROV services on its Njord field.

An Equinor spokeswoman told Upstream that the company is not familiar with IE’s report and that it could not comment on it. However, she said that Equinor’s contracts with suppliers contain requirements of compliance to laws, regulations and tariff agreements.

“Our requirements for safety, sustainability and ethics are also defined in Equinor’s supplier declaration. All suppliers are obligated to follow these requirements. And we can confirm that Saipem Ltd has signed this declaration,” she said.

According to the spokeswoman, Equinor follows up with suppliers to ensure that their activity corresponds with formalised requirements. “Within this area, we have performed 260 verifications in the last five years,” she said.