AN “overwhelming” majority of union members employed to build a new £500 million gas plant on Shetland have voted in favour of industrial action in a long-running row over their accommodation and travelling allowances.
The GMB union claimed last month that 47 construction workers had been barred from the site by contractors Petrofac after the union had served notice on the oil service company of plans for a ballot on industrial action over the workers’ “unsuitable” lodgings.
And the union today announced that senior officials were seeking urgent talks with the main contractor to try to resolve the dispute after “an overwhelming majority” of GMB members employed on the new gas plant project on Shetland had voted in favour of industrial action.
A GMB spokesman said: “Unite members have also returned an overwhelming majority for action. The official ballot covered GMB members employed by Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited.
“The dispute concerns a claim for an additional £50 per day to compensate for the failure to provide suitable accommodation for members and an additional claim for payment for lengthy travelling time undertaken each day. Some other workers employed by other contractors on site are also involved in the same dispute and they will also be balloted for strike action.”
Harry Donaldson, secretary of GMB Scotland, said: “GMB will seek urgent talks with the main contractor to convey to them the ballot results and impress on management to need to seriously address the long running issues involved in this dispute.
“The employers need to sit up and take notice of this overwhelming vote and put forward an offer to resolve this long running dispute.”
Workers staying on barges
A number of workers employed at the giant construction site are being housed on barges at Lerwick harbour. The Sella Ness Accommodation Facility, built to accommodate up to 850 people working on the project, opened in July 2011. The facility includes a shop, library, laundry, internet cafe, restaurant, gymnasium and bar, as well as a medical facility and five-a-side football pitch.
When completed, Total’s new Shetland Gas Plant will facilitate the transportation of gas from the Laggan and Tormore fields back to Total’s gas terminal at St Fergus, near Peterhead in Aberdeenshire.
In a statement, Petrofac said: “Petrofac takes the welfare of its workers very seriously and is committed to working with all parties to reach a satisfactory outcome while delivering the project successfully.
“We are surprised at this decision - everyone who is provided with free shared living accommodation was made aware during recruitment and when offered the role that the accommodation provided was on a “shared” basis, and they signed a waiver agreeing to this at the beginning of their employment.
“This is part of a very attractive package that includes a competitive salary (higher than they would able to command for the equivalent work on the mainland). However we have always aimed to maintain a constructive relationship with the unions – and we’ll be looking to meet quickly with them to see how we can move forward on this issue.”