Norway settles oil dispute as politicians act

NORWAY’S government ordered a last-minute settlement in a dispute between striking oil workers and employers yesterday, as a total shutdown of the industry loomed.

The strike over pensions had brought the industry to the brink as employers prepared to cease their operations.

Oil markets had been hit with the price of crude rising over supply fears, but soon calmed after the government finally acted.

Under Norwegian law, the government can force the striking workers back to duty and has done so in the past to protect the industry on which much of the country’s economy depends.

But it was slow to intervene in the latest dispute, which was in its third week, and did so on Monday only minutes before the start of the lockout, citing potential consequences for the economy.

“I had to make this decision to protect Norway’s vital interests. It wasn’t an easy choice, but I had to do it," Labour minister Hanne Bjurstroem said after meeting with the trade unions and the Norwegian oil industry association (OLF).

A full closure of output in Norway – the world’s No 8 oil exporter – would have cut off more than two million barrels of oil, natural gas liquids (NGL) and condensate per day.

But the minister said her main concern was the potential cut in gas supplies. Norway is the world’s second-biggest gas exporter by pipeline, with the majority of supplies going to Britain, the Netherlands France and Germany.

“This could have had serious consequences for the trust in Norway as a credible supplier,” she added.

The oil and gas industry makes up about one-fifth of Norway’s $417bn economy. The strike was primarily over calls for employees to retire at 62. Leif Sande, leader of the largest labour union Industri Energi, representing more than half of 7,000 offshore workers, said workers would return to work immediately.

“It’s very sad. The strike is over,” he said.

The dispute has raised eyebrows in Norway, where oil and gas workers are already the world's best paid, raking in an average $180,000 a year. Offshore workers clock 16 weeks a year but cite tough conditions for their call for early retirement at 62.