Dispute threatens to shutdown Norway oil industry
Norway\'s government intervened to end a 16-day oil strike just minutes ahead of a threatened lockout on Tuesday that would have halted production by western Europe\'s largest crude exporter.\"The strike is over,\" labour
ministry spokesmanJan Richard Kjelstrup told AFP after the last-ditch deal, which sent North Sea crude prices plunging below the key $100 threshold in Asian trading.
The dispute over pensions between unions and employers -- in what is the world\'s eighth-biggest oil exporter and second-biggest exporter of gas -- will now go to binding arbitration.
The lockout would have prevented more than 6,500 people from going to work on the Norwegian continental shelf and cut off production of about two million barrels of oil equivalent a day.
Jan Hodneland, a negotiator for the Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) employers\' group, said the government had made a \"responsible choice\".
He said: \"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.\"
The lockout, which was to have been enforced from midnight (2200 GMT) on Monday, had loomed after talks between employers and unions failed to end a strike involving more than 700 workers which began on June 24.
Unions 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 a production stoppage would have hit supplies to Europe as well as Norway\'s credibility as an energy 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.
Norway\'s state-owned giant Statoil, the group most hit by the strike, said in a statement it was \"preparing to resume production at installations that have been affected\" with normal levels expected to be resumed in a week.
Statoil, which operates along with about 50 other companies on Norway\'s continental shelf, including BP and Royal Dutch Shell, had been faced with a production loss of 1.2 million barrels a day if the lockout went ahead.
OLF said the strike had cost about 414 million euros (about $500 million).
Oil prices had surged Monday ahead of the looming lockout.
But Brent crude fell back below $100 in Asian trading Tuesday after news of the end of the strike, with the August delivery contract plunging $1.75 to $98.57.
New York\'s main contract, light sweet crude for delivery in August dropped 97 cents to $85.02 a barrel.
\"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.
The last oil workers strike in Norway, in 2004, was ended by government intervention after a week.