June 20, 2012 / 11:24 AM / 8 years ago

Norway oil workers threaten strike over pensions

* Unions say they will focus on oil, not gas

* Strike could affect output from a few oil platforms

* Deadline for agreement ends on Saturday midnight

By Nerijus Adomaitis

OSLO, June 20 (Reuters) - Oil workers in Norway, the world’s eighth largest oil exporter, resume wage talks on Friday, threatening to go on strike within days if firms fail to improve their pay offer and tackle a sensitive pension issue.

Unions are demanding wage increases, better overtime pay and the right to retire at 62 for the sector’s 7,000 workers, but the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) already said pensions will not be on the table during the talks.

“If they don’t want to discuss the pension issue, then we will go on strike,” Leif Sande, president of Industri Energi, which represents about 3,500 offshore workers, told Reuters.

A strike would initially affect just a handful of projects, gradually ramping up overtime, affecting more of the sector, which accounts for a fifth of the country’s gross domestic product.

However, major disruptions are unlikely, as the government has the authority to force a settlement and it has not hesitated in the past to use this power if a dispute threatened its most vital industry.

Unions said they would initially strike at two Statoil operated fields, Heidrun and Oseberg, accounting for about nine percent of oil production, or 150,000 barrels of oil per day, and four percent of total gas output.

They would also target BP’s Skarv field, which has not started producing yet.

It total, about 700 workers are planning to go on strike initially, about a tenth of the total workforce, with possible gradual increase later.

“We will try to make the impact on the gas production as little as possible to avoid the government shutting down the strike,” Sverre Simen Hov, a spokesman for the Norwegian Organization for Managers and Supervisors (Lederne), said.

Norway, Europe’s second biggest gas exporter, produced 106 billion cubic meters of gas last year and is one of the key suppliers to the UK, France and Germany.

Oil firms have the option of declaring a lockout for all workers involved in the talks, threatening a complete shutdown of Norwegian oil and gas production. Such a move would virtually guarantee government intervention to end the conflict, but would also inflame the already tense relationship with workers.

The issue is a sensitive one for Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg’s center left government as it faces elections next year and must balance labor issues and the needs of the petroleum sector, which accounts for almost half of exports. (Editing by William Hardy)

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