Norwegian oil strike ends: Labour ministry

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08:39 CEST+02:00
Norway's government intervened to end an offshore workers' strike just minutes ahead of a threatened lockout at the country's oil production sites, the labour ministry said on Tuesday.

"The strike is over," ministry spokesman Jan Richard Kjelstrup told AFP.

Jan Hodneland, a negotiator for the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) employers' group, said the government made a "responsible choice".

"We are now relieved that we do not have to shut down the production on the Norwegian continental shelf, however, we were ready to initiate a lockout if the government did not intervene," he said.

The pensions dispute -- in what is Western Europe's largest oil and gas producer and the world's second largest gas exporter -- will now go to binding arbitration.

The lockout, which was to have been enforced from midnight on Monday, had loomed after talks between employers and unions failed to end a prolonged strike involving hundreds of workers which began on June 24th. Crude prices had risen on the news.

More than 700 North Sea oil workers -- members of the unions Industri Energi and SAFE -- launched their strike in June.

They wanted employers to reconsider a decision not to grant special benefits to those who wish to retire at the age of 62, three years before the legal retirement age in the field and five years before the country-wide age.

Labour Minister Hanne Bjurstrom said on national television that a production stoppage would have hit supplies to Europe as well as Norway's credibility as a hydrocarbon exporter.

Leif Sande, the head of the Industri Energi union, said his members felt "betrayed" but trade unions nonetheless called on members to resume work immediately.

Norwegian old giant Statoil, the group most hit by the 16-day strike, said in a statement that it was "preparing to resume production at installations that have been affected".

The strike had halted production of oil and natural gas at the group's Oseberg and Heidrun fields in the North Sea, resulting in a loss of some 240,000 barrels of oil and 11.9 million cubic metres of gas, according to OLF.

Statoil estimated that normal production levels would be resumed within a week.

Oil prices surged earlier on Monday as Norway's oil industry appeared headed for the lockout.

However Brent crude fell back below $100 in Asian trading Tuesday after news of the end of the strike.

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New York's main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August dived 77 cents to $85.22 a barrel and Brent North Sea crude for August delivery plunged $1.62 to $98.70.

"After the government stepped in and ordered a settlement to the strike, that's returned one to two million barrels per day of oil to the market. That's having a relatively bearish impact on prices right now," Nick Trevethan, senior commodities strategist for ANZ Research, told AFP in Singapore.

Some 50 companies operate on Norway's continental shelf, including Statoil, BP and Royal Dutch Shell.

The last oil workers strike in Norway, in 2004, was ended by government intervention after a week.

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