Around 1,000 workers downed tools at the Shetland Gas Plant this morning (Wednesday) in an unofficial dispute over travelling money,
The walk-out was also blamed for the cancellation of a planned visit to the plant by Prime Minister David Cameron.
Workers regarded as “resident” by Petrofac are not eligible for a £15 day bonus paid to the “travelling” workforce, who are the men who stay in barges and ships in Lerwick.
The travelling bonus was awarded following a dispute at the end of last year which also focussed on workers having to share cabins in the floating accommodation.
Mr Cameron’s entourage was to have visited the plant at 11am this morning, but there was no signs of the visitors at the gas plant gates by 11.30.
Unconfirmed reports were that the visit had been cancelled owing to the strike, while a source close to the PM would only say that his schedule had always been subject to change and that mist had prompted an earlier departure from Scatsta to Glasgow, where he is due to open the Commonwealth Games.
According to one gas plant worker, who declined to be named, the workforce were unified in their stance that the bonus should be paid to all workers who have to travel to the Sullom Voe plant.
Around 1,000 workers had gathered outside the plant’s management offices to voice their support for the resident workers’ claim.
He said that Petrofac had insisted in ongoing talks that no bonus would be paid to the resident workers and that strike action would result in mass sacking. The striking workers were awaiting the outcome of management deliberations before resuming work.
The worker said: “I think it’s wrong. It’s very discriminatory”. And it went against the many promises made by Petrofac to local workers before construction started.
He added that because of the delay of “weeks and weeks” in organising an official union sanctioned ballot, an unofficial workers poll had been unanimous in favour of immediate industrial action.
Gas plant workers are mainly represented by the GMB and Unite unions. Workers from subcontractors were also involved.
The Prime Minister’s visit was purely coincidental, he added, a claim borne out by security staff who said they had no knowledge of the visit until yesterday.
A Petrofac spokesman said: “We’re very disappointed with what appears to be opportunistic, unauthorised action.
“We take the welfare of our staff very seriously and in previous disputes we have worked hard with staff and trades unions to resolve the situation.
“However, this is very different. The action doesn’t appear to be supported by the trades unions and has completely ignored the formal process for dispute resolution.”