Norway Oil Strike Negotiations Set to Resume
06/29/2012| 09:35am US/Eastern
--Oil Industry Association open for new talks to end strike
--Unions suggest new solutions to pension disagreement
--Unions decided Friday not to step up the strike
OSLO--Norway's oil strike could come to an end this weekend, as the Norwegian Oil Industry Association told Dow Jones Newswires it might make contact with unions in the coming days in hope of ending the industrial action that began Sunday.
The three striking unions decided Friday to avoid stepping up the strike, which has already cut 15% of Norway's oil output and 7% of its natural-gas output--or 230,000 to 250,000 barrels oil and 11.9 million cubic meters of natural gas a day, according to the country's Oil Industry Association.
If the unions and oil companies manage to reach an agreement, oil and gas production on shut-down fields such as Oseberg and Heidrun could resume in one or two days, according to the country's giant producer Statoil ASA (STO).
"We see the fact that they don't step up the strike as so positive that we'll consider making contact with them in the course of the coming days," Oil Industry Association spokeswoman Eli Ane Nedreskar told Dow Jones Newswires.
Coming ahead of Sunday's start of the European Union's embargo on Iranian oil, the shuttering of production on the Norwegian continental shelf could add upwards pressure to the oil price--benchmark Brent earlier this month fell below $90 a barrel, from around $130 in March, but has turned somewhat higher this week.
"If we can get something in place, we can get back to where we were pretty fast," Leif Sande, leader of the union Industri Energi, told Dow Jones Newswires.
Unions have pushed for an early pensions agreement to be included into the collective bargaining, but the Oil Industry Association, which represents oil companies in centralized wage negotiations, has said that discussion doesn't belong in that setting.
"The unions aren't stepping up the strike. This suggests that the will to strike is low. We take it as a signal that they are ready to drop the claim for pensions to be part of the collective agreement and wants dialogue," said Oil Industry Association negotiator Jan Hodneland in a statement.
Mr. Sande said there are several possible solutions to the conflict, but that it was now up to the Oil Industry Association to make contact.
"If the government keeps away, then we will win this at some point," he said. "Today, the strike is at a level where 15% of the oil production is down. This strike is easy to run, there is a will to strike, the supplier business isn't heavily affected, we can run at this level for a while."
The government could force an end to the strike by imposing compulsory arbitration. The Ministry of Labor, which would make that decision, Friday it is monitoring the situation closely but had no plans to end the strike now.
"Our door is open, we'd like dialogue to end the strike," said the Oil Industry Association's Mr. Hodneland. "[Unions] probably realized that the 32-year-old demand to get pensions into the collective agreement is completely unreasonable."
The unions are supposed to meet early next week to discuss a further step-up of the strike. Industri Energi's Mr. Sande said that it wasn't necessary to make the early pensions part of the collective agreement.
"We have a fund...which we want to use for gift pensions, if we can add some money to it. If we get 5,000 kroner ($830) per worker, that could work," he said, leaving it to the employers to answer his call.
"We haven't claimed for pensions to become a part of the collective agreement for a long time," said Hilde-Marit Rysst, leader of the Safe union. "We want a solution, and have suggested a fund."
Mrs. Rysst said that the unions expected the Oil Industry Association to make first contact.
"We are open for discussion as long as they can bring something real onto the table," she said.
-Write to Kjetil Malkenes Hovland at email@example.com