Norwegian oil industry employers on Thursday called for a labor lockout on offshore platforms next week that would virtually halt the 3 million barrels of oil produced daily by the world’s third biggest oil exporter.
The announcement of the lockout, to start Tuesday, came a day after a striking union said that it would escalate an ongoing labor conflict on Monday.
Per Terje Vold, of the Norwegian Oil Industry Association, or OLF, said the conflict, which began last Friday, was totally deadlocked and prospects of a negotiated solution were nil.
“The demands are unreasonable,” he said Thursday in a statement. “When the employers announce a further escalation, it is because we see no other option for ending the conflict.”
The Norwegian government has traditionally been quick to order an end to strikes through binding arbitration when they threaten oil production crucial to the national economy. However, it did not immediately reveal its plans.
“The government sees that this situation is serious and it is clear that it becomes even more serious through the lockout warning,” said Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik on national radio.
“A big responsibility rests on the parties to find a solution. Beyond that, I have no comment at the moment,” he said.
In a similar strike in 2000, the government ordered binding arbitration, forcing strikers back to work when the oil association announced plans for a lockout.
In a dispute largely over pensions and job security, the Federation of Norwegian Oil Workers and its smaller ally Lederene ordered a strike by 207 workers last Friday and has been gradually stepping it up.
By Monday, it said about 325 oil workers would be on strike, reducing Norwegian oil production by about 25 percent.
In a lockout, virtually all of Norway’s oil production would stop at a time when short supply has kept prices high. Only Saudi Arabia and Russia export more oil than Norway.
The striking unions rejected an offer from the oil companies that had been accepted by two other offshore unions.
Union spokesman Bjoern Tjessem told The Associated Press that, “As we see it, the OLF (employers) don’t want to negotiate. This is a cry for help to the authorities.”
The union had hoped to avoid a back to work order by keeping the production loss at a level the government could live with.
Tjessem said the union’s bid to stop the 140,000 barrel per day production from Exxon Mobil’s Ringehorn field early Wednesday had failed so far because the oil company was using non-striking workers to keep the field running.
Calling it strikebreaking, Tjessem said the union was in touch with Norwegian authorities to pressure the company. He also complained that the 16 striking union members had not been allowed to leave the platform.
Leif Harald Halvorsen, of the oil company association, said ExxonMobil was within its rights to keep the platform running if it had the personnel available.