Court of Session rejected request from companies, led by catering giant Sodexo, for unions to name each rig or platform where members work

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Unions representing North Sea oil rig catering workers have beaten off a legal attempt by employers to halt a strike ballot which could trigger the first industrial action in the sector for more than 30 years.

A judge at Scotland’s highest court has rejected an application for an interim interdict – similar to a temporary injunction in the English courts – on the grounds that he believed the case would be lost if it went to a full trial.

The catering companies association, COTA, which includes the largest of the employers, Sodexo, had attempted to argue that RMT and Unite should have served notice of their ballot to registered head offices in another country.

They also said the unions should have specified which oil rigs or platforms where each of the chefs or stewards was assigned to work.

For the unions, Ken McGuire QC argued their members regularly moved between different installations, frequently at short notice.

The judge, Lord Woolman (pictured) ruled it was unreasonable to require the trade unions to provide this information and that it was the most practical option to inform the employers that each worker’s nearest employment base was Aberdeen.

For example, Sodexo names its “Remote Sites” or offshore catering services operations as being based in its central Aberdeen office.

Industrial action would affect operations on installations across the UK sector of the North Sea involving all the main industry players, such as BP and Shell.

RMT’s regional organiser, Jake Molloy told UnionNews: “We’re delighted with this decision.

“Nowadays, almost everyone in the North Sea is employed by some company we never see with a notional head office based abroad for tax avoidance purposes. So this is an important result for us and for other trade unions.

“Lord Woolman said he took cognisance of the fact that the employers would never have persuaded a full court hearing that they were right on these issues.

“We have had to make sure our members’ database was pristine before began the ballot and so now we can only wait to see how the members vote – but we are preparing for action if that’s what they want.”

The strike ballot opened yesterday and is due to run until June 14th.

Unite regional officer, John Taylor, told UnionNews: “It’s an excellent result for us and we’ve instructed the ERBS [Electoral Reform Services] to proceed with the ballot.”

The five employers have offered a pay increase of 4%.

However negotiators had also been calling for increases in travel and accomodation allowances to cover the periods at the beginning and end of the “3 on, 3 off” working patterns.

Many workers find the allowances fall well short of the actual costs they incur every month.


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