Five companies at the centre of pay and allowances dispute have lodged a legal challenge to Unite/RMT strike ballot, due to start on Thursday

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One of the unions preparing to run a ballot among North Sea catering workers has told members to ‘prepare for war’ over a threat to take them to court to prevent industrial action.

The companies at the centre of a six month dispute over pay and allowances for the more than 2,000 chefs and stewards have lodged a legal challenge to the strike ballot by Unite and the RMT.

Officials say they will continue to run the ballot, which is due to open on Thursday (10th May).

In a message to its members, the RMT Offshore Energy Branch describes the threat of legal action as ‘an outrageous act by the employers designed to intimidate catering workers and delay the process.’

It says: We all know they have ‘brass plate’ addresses for the avoidance of tax, but we also all know that every function relating to your employment in the North Sea is managed out of Aberdeen and Aberdeen is your “base”.

‘Clearly the employers want to deny you the right to fight, so let’s prepare for war!’

UnionNews understands the five companies – including the catering and services giant, Sodexo Universal – are claiming a number of technical errors, such as in the job titles of HR managers who were sent letters notifying them of the ballot, will make the vote unlawful.

They are also expected to use anti-union legislation to claim Unite has not provided full details of the workplace locations of some members on more than 200 North Sea rigs and platforms.

Sources say long-established working patterns – which mean people frequently move between installations at very short notice – make it unreasonable to require the union to give a precise location for every worker.

The dispute, which is over pay and allowances, dates back to last year.

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.

Unite regional officer, John Taylor, told UnionNews: “We are confident that we will see off this challenge and that we will have a decisive result from the ballot.”

If offshore workers vote for industrial action, it could see the strike of its kind in the North Sea since 1979.

The ballot opens on 10th May and is scheduled to run until 14th June.


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