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Hundreds of North Sea workers down tools on Shell oil rigs

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Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 16.45.26Jillian Ambrose26 JULY 2016 • 1:26PM

Around 400 North Sea oil workers have downed tools on Shell oil rigs in the sector’s first spate of industrial action in 28 years.

The 24-hour strike began at 6.30am on Tuesday alongside an ongoing refusal to work overtime and will be followed by further stoppages in the weeks to come, trade union Unite warned.

Offshore oil workers employed by Wood Group to work on Shell’s giant Brent oilfield platforms voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action earlier this month, after talks over plans to bring in longer hours and lower pay broke down.

Although the strike is unlikely to hit Shell’s production the oil giant said the decision to strike was “highly regrettable” and urged all parties to work towards a halt to the “counter-productive industrial action”.

The decision to strike comes after months of bitter talks between Wood Group and unions who believe that workers are being forced to bear the brunt of North Sea cost-cutting. Oil services companies have been forced to cut costs because of the precipitous plunge in the price of crude oil since 2014.

Dave Stewart, Wood Group’s North Sea boss, said the company’s senior management met with union representatives on Friday and visited installations over the weekend to talk with the workers “with the clear aim of positively progressing discussions towards reaching a resolution”.

“Our firm focus remains on reaching a resolution, which meets our mutual goal of sustaining these jobs for our employees in the North Sea now and in the future, against the backdrop of an extremely challenging climate created by the sustained low oil price,” he added.

Union representatives slammed the company’s efforts, saying bosses at Wood Group “are simply not listening”.

John Boland, a regional officer at Unite, said: “This dispute is the first in the North Sea in three decades and shows the strength of feeling of our members who feel backed into a corner and left with no other option but to use their industrial strength to make Wood Group listen.

“For decades, oil and gas companies across the North Sea have made hay while the sun shone and become very profitable on the back of the hard work and dedication of our members. Now the weather has turned for the industry, they are using the downturn to attack the pay, terms and conditions of our members,” he added.

Wood Group said it had met with unions 11 times in recent months to discuss new terms that it argued comply with industry standards agreed with the unions just six months ago.

Earlier this year Mr Stewart said in an interview with the Telegraph that the industry needed to take tight control of finances to correct spiraling costs.

“What we’re trying to do is maintain our steady workforce and also protect jobs in the future. If we keep paying inflated salaries and keep the market hot, costs begin to rise and it’s no good for the industry,” he said.

The North Sea is one of the highest-cost oil basins in the world and has been particularly hard hit by the fall in global oil prices from over $100 a barrel in 2014 to less than $30 in January. Oil is currently at around $45 a barrel.

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