Oil, Gas Companies in UK Offshore Working Time Dispute

LONDON Sep 28, 2006 (Dow Jones Newswires)

The U.K. Offshore Operators Association, or UKOOA, a group representing North Sea oil and gas companies, will next week appeal a U.K. government ruling that applies the European Working Time Directive to offshore oil and gas operations.

However, the group says the litigation is only a tactic to delay a series of cases which could pose a greater threat to the U.K. oil and gas industry.

The EWTD aims to limit the working week to 48 hours, with each worker entitled to at least four weeks annual holiday.

The appeal is part of UKOOA's wider dispute with trade unions representing offshore workers who are looking to bring over three-hundred cases before an employment tribunal, arguing that under the EWTD its offshore workers are entitled to four weeks' paid leave.

UKOOA says the current four-week leave is more than compensated by workers' shore leave, which currently amounts to at least 169 days a year, "enough time off to compensate for every weekend, every Bank Holiday and 20 days leave - with more than seven weeks to spare."

However, UKOOA is more worried that if, in the course of the tribunals, a European Court of Justice ruling called the Jaeger ruling comes into play, the industry could face devastation.

The Jaeger ruling says time spent "on call" is working time, even if the person has finished their shift and is sleeping.

If this ruling is applied to offshore operations then UKOOA says workers will only be able to spend eight days offshore, followed by 20 days onshore, as opposed to the normal pattern of 14 days on, 14 days off.

They estimate that in the event of the Jaeger ruling being applied, the industry would need an extra 20,000 additional workers to cover shifts.

"There are simply not enough trained personnel or helicopters available" the group said. The ruling "would lead to chronic skills shortages and rapid decline as large parts of North Sea production are forced to close down," it added.

UKOOA said it has urged trade unions to give them assurances they won't seek to implement the Jaeger ruling, in return for them dropping their appeal to the jurisdiction of the EWTD.

However, the RMT said, "We have never mentioned the Jaeger ruling at all and we've given the employers categoric assurances that we're not talking about the Jaeger ruling."

Steve Todd, spokesman for transport and shipping added: "We're talking about the offshore workforce being entitled to four weeks paid leave."

He said time spent onshore for workers is rest time, and not annual leave, and is compensation for workers spending two weeks offshore, and working 12-hour shifts.

UKOOA's appeal hearing is due to be held on Monday. The body's members include Royal Dutch Shell PLC (RDSB.LN), BP PLC (BP.LN) and Centrica PLC (CNA.LN).

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