CHC Scotia workers prep for possible strike

 - October 9, 2007, 9:00 AM

North Sea oil and gas producers could be facing a summer of extreme discontent should a voting majority of union members at CHC Scotia have their way.
An announced 96.8 percent of the company’s 350 unionized ground staff rejected CHC Scotia’s latest pay offer, which the union claimed amounted to a 3.5-percent raise, dramatically less than the annual pay boosts of approximately $26,000 apiece awarded over a two-year period to more than 200 CHC Scotia helicopter pilots represented by the British Airline Pilots Association (BALPA).

Airline-size salaries
The purpose of both union efforts was to bring the salaries of their respective memberships in line with the earnings of their counterparts in the Part 121 scheduled airline industry. Figures cited by BALPA when it won the raises for its pilots last fall showed that rotorcraft captains with 10 years of service had been earning almost 30 percent less than similarly experienced fixed-wing pilots ($76,800 a year vs $105,000 annually). Parent company CHC agreed to the pilot pay hikes but has declined to go along with proportionate pay increases for ground personnel.

In rejecting management’s offer, CHC Scotia ground workers asked their union to organize a strike vote. No word was immediately forthcoming on just when that vote would be staged. CHC Scotia ground workers are represented by the Amicus Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union (AEEU).

A strike at CHC Scotia, the North Sea’s largest offshore-oil-support operator, is expected to throw regional oil production into chaos. CHC Scotia operates 87 flights a day, including 45 from Aberdeen, and serves North Sea platforms owned by some of the industry’s biggest names, including BP, ExxonMobil, Talisman, TotalFinaElf and Kerr-McGee. CHC Scotia bases affected by such action would be Blackpool, Humberside and Yarmouth, England, and Aberdeen, Scotland.

Industry observers warned months ago that the concessions CHC granted its pilot workforce would prompt ground workers to ask for similar pay increases, and that offshore operators, already stretched to the breaking point by debt and tightly costed contracts with the increasingly parsimonious oil companies, would be hard pressed to come up with the demanded extra cash. “What’s more,” said a financial manager for another operator, “the other offshore operators don’t have the fleet depth to fill in for an operator that’s been knocked out of action, even temporarily, by a strike. Tight times have taught us to own only the aircraft we can make money operating. We just don’t have any extra.”