August 21, 2012 / 3:12 PM / 5 years ago

Norway's oil service workers may strike within weeks

OSLO, Aug 21 (Reuters) - Norway’s oil service workers could move a step closer to a strike this week as they resume fraught wage negotiations on Thursday, just over a month after striking production workers caused a partial shutdown of the country’s oil and gas industry.

The service workers, who were not part of the earlier strike, said if talks failed to yield early results, they would break off negotiations and seek state mediation, a precursor to any strike, which could then come within weeks.

“I think we are going know by Friday if negotiations are going anywhere,” Einar Johannessen, one of the negotiators for the Industri Energi union said on Tuesday.

“If not, then we’ll communicate to authorities how many people would take part in the strike and where, before we request a mandatory state mediation,” he added.

Johannessen said if a strike went ahead, it could not come before the second half of September, given the natural speed of the negotiation process.

Norway, the world’s eighth-largest oil exporter, produces around 2 million barrels per day of oil, natural gas liquids and condensate, while the country is also Europe’s second-biggest gas supplier.

Thursday’s negotiations affect several thousand managers, administrative staff and service workers, some of whom are vital to operations of pipelines and other infrastructure.

Many of these employees are demanding similar conditions as offshore workers, who earn more and work fewer hours.

With unemployment hovering around 3 percent, economic growth well above 3 percent and oil prices trading comfortably above the government’s own forecast, oil workers have set high demands this year, saying they are entitled to more of the oil boom’s benefits.

On July 9, the Norwegian government forced an end to a 16-day strike by offshore production workers after companies threatened to shut down all output in a move that would have cut off Norway’s top source of tax revenues.

That strike reduced oil output by 13 percent and natural gas production by 4 percent but intervention came only when oil firms threatened a lock out.

In the case of another strike, the government has the right to intervene if it believes safety or vital national interests are at stake but the centre-left government has been careful with intervention, particularly with elections next year.

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