UK: North Sea helicopter pilots support strike action

Offshore Energy Today reported Monday that BALPA, the British Airline Pilots Association, had called its helicopter pilots operating in the North Sea for a ballot on strike action.

The ballot was closed on Tuesday, August 18, 2015. According to BALPA’s press release, North Sea Helicopter Pilots have indicated strong support for strike action if helicopter companies do not make serious improvements in the way they deal with job losses.

They have also highlighted the serious impact on safety the threat of redundancy is having, the association said.

In the survey conducted by BALPA, pilots accepted the downturn in the industry meant jobs would go, but were frustrated at the way management are going about it, BALPA added.

The association also added that pilots want the helicopter companies to improve voluntary redundancy arrangements to try and prevent as many compulsory job losses as possible. And they believe the companies are not valuing the experience of senior pilots highly enough in deciding who may need to be made redundant.

“BALPA will do all it can to protect pilots who are feeling the brunt of the downturn in the North Sea oil industry.”

BALPA General Secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: “We are not being unreasonable. We know the downturn in the North Sea is going to hit jobs, but the way the companies are going about it is causing massive frustration, borne out by the very high turnout and strong ‘yes’ vote in this ballot conducted over just four days.

“In the event management do not substantially shift their position BALPA’s National Executive Council will be meeting early next month to consider a move to a formal strike vote, something we are still hoping to avoid.”

According to BALPA, a strong and worrying message from the survey was concern over safety. Pilots reported that the threat hanging over them, their families and their colleagues, was having serious unintended effects on their ability to sleep and concentrate, the association emphasized.

One pilot commented: “Crews are concerned and distracted and this is reflected in an increase of mistakes and lack of awareness. The threat of being ‘at risk’ is dominating the mindset of the majority of our pilots.”

Another said: “Do we really want pilots to be worried how their training costs and mortgage will be paid on a dark and stormy night?”

And a third said: “Radio calls are being missed. Pilots’ heads are not in the cockpit.”

McAuslan continued: “Safety must come first. We are not saying that helicopter companies are indifferent to these issues, but we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the stress and pressure that pilots are feeling. We will be passing these concerns on to the Civil Aviation Authority who regulate aviation in the North Sea.”

Operators cutting costs

To remind, BALPA called for a ballot last week after updating its members on negotiations over planned redundancies, and after its members deemed the employers’ approach to the redundancies to be risky to safety in the North Sea.

One round of redundancies was announced in July by the UK-based offshore helicopter operator Bristow Helicopters with the number of employees affected amounting to 130. Out of those 130, BALPA said 66 were helicopter pilots and 64 other staff.

At the time, McAuslan, said: “BALPA will do all it can to protect pilots who are feeling the brunt of the downturn in the North Sea oil industry.”

Only weeks after Bristow’s announcement, CHC Scotia, a helicopter services company, announced 50 job losses in Aberdeen, half of those were to be pilots.

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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