OFFSHORE workers employed by Aberdeen-based Wood Group on Shell installations in the North Sea are staging an overtime ban today which will be followed tomorrow by a strike over changes to their pay and conditions.

The long-running dispute has become increasingly bitter after employers were accused of attempting to hire “scab” labour to cover work on the installations.

Around 400 members of the Unite and RMT unions voted overwhelming for industrial action – the first in a generation – and they have attracted worldwide support, from Norway to the US and Ukraine.

Oil worker James Furie has been monitoring activity on social media – including protest action at Shell petrol stations in North East Scotland. He said the pay cuts were more than Wood Group would admit.

He said: “Cuts on average are between 18 and 30 per cent although Wood Group claim they are no more than three per cent.

“Across the social media network the Shell garage protest has been well received and has thrown the dispute further into the spotlight. There are also lots of positive messages for the workforce and the guys on the page.”

One North Sea worker told Energy Voice how his salary had fallen. The man, who did not want to be identified, said: “My current pay deal has been £68,000 and now they’ve come back to us with a figure of £53,000 of which £5,500 of that is for holiday, so my basic payment is £48,000.

“It’s £20,000 less than my previously salary – they’re having a laugh. The pay cut we’re being expected to take is so severe.

“They’re cutting our sickness benefits, holidays. It’s the worst morale I have ever come across in my life. It’s horrific, the boys are just totally deflated.”

And he warned: “I do a lot of safety work offshore and I genuinely believe that it is a disaster waiting to happen because the boys’ focus is gone.”

Furie added that offshore staff were keeping a watch for “scab” labour after it emerged earlier this month that one agency in Aberdeen had advertised for offshore helideck officers at half the going rate.

RMT regional organiser Jake Molloy told The National then: “There are safety-critical aspects to the work of helideck crews and it is worrying. Why you would jeopardise operations by using inexperienced people is beyond me.”

Furie added: “We now have numerous guys on every platform policing flight lists and watching in case scab labour is flown out, and also encouraging guys not to scab.

“Slowly, but surely this dispute seems it’s going to be effective. Wood Group HR have also been met strong resistance as they fly round the platforms in a last-ditch pleading session.”

One worker told how he and his colleagues were warned off making comments on social media.

He said on Facebook: “Wood Group HR told us under no circumstances do we put anything on social media, and have told us they expect other personnel to follow suit and stop working in support of the official action.

“They’ve sent guidance offshore for supervision to support them should all out chaos break out.”

Another added: “For Wood Group on the BP focus contract, today we have just been told two weeks after the last mass cull we are again all on consultation.

“We are hearing Wood Group will have no personnel on any BP platform in about a month, so all currently on them will be paid off.”

A Wood Group spokeswoman said: “Safeguarding these positions for our employees in the North Sea, against the backdrop of an extremely challenging climate for the sector has always been and remains our focus.

“We are strongly committed to reaching a resolution which achieves this mutual goal, and our proactive engagement continued on Friday with further productive discussions with the unions, with this as our clear aim.

“Our employees’ safety and wellbeing remains our top priority and our commitment is to ensuring it is not compromised during industrial action.”