The GMB union claimed the 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.
A spokesman for the union said: “The 47 engineering construction workers were locked out this morning by contractor Petrofac Offshore Engineering and& Operations in a dispute over accommodation allowances and travelling time.
“This lock out follows GMB serving notice yesterday to sub contractors Balfour Beatty Engineering Services Limited (BBESL) of an official industrial action ballot involving 62 engineering construction members who are employed building the Laggan/Tormore gas plant in Shetland. Unite is also balloting members employed by BBESL.”
He said: “There will be an application to the GMB Central Executive Council (CEC), which meets on 3 December, to make this lock out dispute official and the dispute will continue until the dispute over accommodation and travelling time is resolved.”
The workforce ballot is scheduled for 4 December.
The union spokesman explained: “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.
“The engineering, procurement, supply, construction and commissioning contract for the plant itself was awarded to Petrofac Offshore Engineering and Operations unit in October 2010. BBESL are one the engineering construction subcontractors.”
Phil Whitehurst, GMB’s national officer for engineering construction, said “As a direct result of GMB serving notice yesterday of an official industrial action ballot Petrofac gave notice last night, after the day shift returned to their lodgings, that 30 BBESL employees already on the island would be flown home in the morning, and another 17 on rotational leave will not be coming back.”
He claimed the workers were victims of “corporate bullying.” And he declared: “This is a direct attack by Petrofac on our member’s rights to take out a lawful industrial action ballot. There will be an application to the GMB Central Executive Council which meets on 3 December, to make this lock out dispute official. GMB is advising the locked members to stay on the island while GMB seek talks with Petrofac to call off this provocative lock out.”
Petrofac have still to respond to the claims.
A number of workers employed at the giant construction site are being housed on accommodation 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 accommodation facility includes a shop, library, laundry, internet cafe, restaurant, gymnasium and bar, as well as a medical facility and five-a-side, all weather 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.
A spokesman for Petrofac said: “These are two completely separate issues. The size of our workforce on any project routinely fluctuates to meet needs. This is common practice across our industry. We can confirm that a small number of employees from one of our sub-contractors have today been given notice that their services are not currently required.
“However we have stated our commitment to priority consideration for re-engagement when an opening arises aligned with their skill sets.”
He added: “We have a trade union site agreement which has been in operation since 2011 with both Unite and GMB which to date has worked very effectively.”