GAS SUPPLIES across the UK could be disrupted as winter approaches after members of the Unite union voted overwhelmingly in favour of industrial action at the Shetland Gas Plant.
The trade union, representing 82 members working for Norwegian oil services company Aker Solutions at the plant, will be serving an industrial action notice on Friday.
It is the latest step in a long-running dispute over wages and holiday payments.
Unite’s regional officer John Boland said his members felt they had no other option as Aker appeared to be unwilling to “come back to us with a reasonable offer that we can put to our members”.
Serving an industrial action notice gives both sides of the dispute another two weeks for negotiations before strike action can be taken.
Back in February Unite asked for a four per cent wage increase and, crucially, also scrutinised its members’ employment contracts.
The union claims Aker is not paying its employees for holiday periods, therefore “unlawfully deducting earnings”.
Boland said workers were required to work 160 12-hour shifts per year and take their holiday entitlement outwith that time, yet their contracts didn’t specify any payment for the 28 days of statutory holiday entitlement.
He said Unite members had rejected Aker’s latest offer of a one per cent wage increase – a real terms pay cut at a time when inflation is running at around three per cent – and a £1,000 goodwill payment to settle the holiday pay dispute by an overwhelming 94 per cent vote.
The union leader said all the members working for Aker at the gas plant had now filed tribunal claims, as they believe they have been left out of pocket by between £5,000 and £6,000 per year.
A spokesman for Aker Solutions said he was unable to discuss any details “at this point”.
He said: “Aker Solutions received notification from Unite the union of a rejection of our improved pay offer.
“Aker Solutions continues to be committed to having regular dialogue with the workforce and the union and to finding a positive resolution to the situation.”
The Shetland Gas Plant opened last year and, operated by French oil giant Total, employs around 200 staff on site.
It processes gas from four West of Shetland gas fields (Tormore, Laggan, Edradour and Glenlivet), which represents around 10 per cent of the UK’s gas supply.
Boland said: “If you take 82 people who are crucial to the running of a gas plant out, then I would imagine it will be difficult for the operator to run it.
“Aker in its communication with its own staff have indicated that the plant has to shut on safety grounds.
“My understanding is that about 10 per cent of the UK’s gas supply comes through this terminal.
“We are coming to a winter period, so there will be a higher demand for gas. I think it will have a major impact.”
Total said it had no comment to make, as it was an issue between Aker Solutions and its employees.