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Norway's Industri Energi union in legal loss ahead of oil wage talks

OSLO, Sept 15 Norway's Labour Court on Thursday approved a wage agreement signed by a small group of oil workers and their employers, a party involved in the dispute said, handing a legal loss to a larger trade union that had called for better terms.

Trade union SAFE in July agreed a settlement for 600 members working at subcontractors to the oil industry, but the competing Industri Energi union took the case to court, saying it violated a previously signed clause that said the unions had to agree.

The verdict comes just days before Industri Energi starts its own wage negotiations, which hold the potential to trigger a strike that could hit output from Norway, western Europe's top producer of oil and gas.

"The Industri Energi union was not successful in the dispute it filed against the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association," the association, which represents employers in the oil sector, said in a statement.

"The Labour Court has unanimously decided that the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association did not violate wage rules when it concluded a deal with the SAFE union earlier this summer."

The Labour Court declined to comment. Industri Energi was not immediately available for comment.

Because of the dispute, Industri Energi's own negotiations with oil-services employers, affecting more than 6,000 workers, were postponed. The union said it would refuse to let the outcome of the SAFE deal influence its eventual negotiations.

Industri Energi is scheduled to negotiate with the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association on Sept. 20, Norway's state-appointed mediator announced earlier.

Industri Energi has said it will demand a better deal, in terms of pay and other conditions, than the one signed by SAFE, and would otherwise launch a strike.

In the case of industrial action, 335 union members would go on strike in the initial phase, which could later be escalated on a few days' notice.

Companies that could be directly affected include Schlumberger, Baker Hughes, Halliburton , National Oilwell Varco, Weatherford, Oceaneering and IKM Oiltools, which are subcontractors to oil firms in Norway, including Statoil.

Industri Energi leader Leif Sande in July told Reuters that a strike may hit output. (Reporting by Terje Solsvik and Gwladys Fouche; Editing by Camilla Knudsen and Dale Hudson)

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