North Sea workers to vote on strike action after talks fail

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LONDON, May 21 (Reuters) - Oil and gas workers in Britain's North Sea are to vote on strike action after unions and the Offshore Contractors' Association representing employers failed to reach an agreement on changes to working conditions.

Trade unions GMB and Unite will now organise an official ballot for members to vote on industrial action, they said in a statement.

"We remain available for talks should the employers want to pull back from going ahead with the unilateral changes to working practices that (have) provoked this dispute," GMB national officer David Hulse said.

Bill Murray, chief executive of the Offshore Contractors' Association said a strike would only serve to make investment in the North Sea less attractive and jeopardise the long-term future of the industry. He said the body had made an improved offer worth between 1,600 to 8,000 pounds ($2,505 to $12,526) per year per worker.

The strike threat comes as North Sea oil and gas companies are struggling to deal with the double whammy of a plunge in oil prices and spiralling operational costs.

Cost pressures have already led to big employers including BP, Shell and Chevron to announce hundreds of job cuts in their North Sea businesses.

North Sea workers first voted overwhelmingly in favour of strike action in a consultative ballot in late March, prompted by changes to shifts, pay rates, sick pay and holiday patterns.

The latest talks, held on Wednesday, followed fresh proposals made by both sides in early May to try to find a solution and avoid strikes.

($1 = 0.6387 pounds) (Reporting by Karolin Schaps. Editing by Jane Merriman)

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