The dispute centres on the refusal of employers to honour a modest pay agreement for the second year of a two-year pay deal, worth around 1.3%
COTA employers, including facilities services giants Aramark, Compass and Sodexo, have now been served with a statutory seven day notice for the ballot start period and the ballot itself will run for six weeks.
Industrial action and an offshore strike, the first in a generation, would impact significantly on the delivery of catering and ancillary services on rigs across the North Sea basin.
Unite industrial officer John Boland said: “The point blank refusal of the COTA employers to honour our pay agreement has left us with no choice but to proceed to a formal industrial action ballot.
“Even against the backdrop of oil price volatility and industry pressure, COTA employers’ profits run into billions and it is unacceptable that our agreement – negotiated in good faith – is now being ignored.
“We are giving our members a clear recommendation to vote ‘yes’ for action short of a strike and ‘yes’ for strike action in order to secure the strongest possible mandate to defend their terms and conditions against the industry’s imposition.
“Our members keep the UK offshore industry fed and watered 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year but we have to take a stand now in order to prevent a damaging race to the bottom.”
Meanwhile, Bill Murray, Chief Executive of the Offshore Contractors Association, has commented on the possibility of an offshore workers strike by Unite industrial members.
He said: “We believe our offer was fair given the present economic challenges and the need for industry to find efficiencies. At every juncture industry has sought to share responsibility for reaching a viable solution with the workforce.
“We proposed a pay freeze at a time when UK inflation sits at 0% and we offered a better deal on sick pay and holiday pay; a package worth up to £7,000 per annum extra per individual when taking into account rota changes.
“While we support the move by some operators to equal time rotas as an important way of increasing efficiency, our offer also guaranteed that no offshore trip would be more than three weeks in duration and committed our members to carrying out meaningful consultation and comprehensive risk assessment before changing any rota patterns in future.
“Strike action could cause significant, irreparable damage to the North Sea industry sending a clear signal to investors that the basin is a high risk investment and threatening future jobs. We encourage all Unite members who are eligible to vote to do so – with no turnout restrictions in industrial ballots it is important that all voices are heard.”