The downsizing process in the 1990s
She was later one of those who witnessed the exclusion of the Ekofisk Committee from the Federation of Offshore Workers Trade Unions (OFS).
When Knutsen was elected to the executive committee, she had experience as a roustabout and 10 years as an operator. The downsizing process which followed became a tough challenge.
The union’s executive committee has six full-time posts. Its annual meeting elects the chair, deputy chair, coordinating chief safety delegate and three chief safety delegates.
Because of the offshore tour rota, a chief safety delegate must always be at work on the field. Knutsen served as one of these until the beginning of 1998. During that time, she spent a lot of time travelling between the various installations to hold member meetings and such like.
The union set conditions based on decisions by the annual conference for its negotiations with Phillips over the downsizing process, reports Knutsen. These included severance packages and application of the seniority principle.
“We wanted the cut-back to be based on ‘voluntary’ departures,” she explains. “Individuals came under great pressure when they were told that the workforce had to be reduced.
“This was an incredibly difficult time for the whole organisation and individual workers. It felt almost as if the process never ended.”
The working environment was another important issue pursued by the union, she adds, and notes that getting things to fall into place is never easy in a downsizing process.
“While the employees would prefer one thing, the company is keen on something else. Financial considerations govern the whole business. The aim is to get the best out of it, but you never manage to satisfy everyone.”
It was difficult to follow people into a process where they were offered a severance package on a ‘take it or leave it’ basis as an alternative to being made redundant.
“You also became personally involved. I feel we did the best we could, even though many people probably believe the exact opposite.”
The union system itself came under pressure at this time. For various reasons, the executive committee of the Ekofisk Committee – and thereby the union itself – was excluded from the OFS.
This in turn prompted a collective transfer from the Ekofisk Committee to the Norwegian Oil and Petrochemical Workers Union (Nopef), part of the Norwegian Confederation of Trade Unions (LO). Some 90 per cent of the membership voted for this change.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Margaret Knutsen interviewed by Kristin Øye Gjerde, 11 December 2003.