After 10 years of intermittent talks, company representatives have acceded to a "partnership" with unions provided they accept "a commitment to total non-disruption".
The Offshore Contractors' Association yesterday signed a breakthrough agreement for union representation among 30,000 contract workers - around three-quarters of those employed on North Sea oil rigs.
Both sides committed to work out details of a pact covering safety, productivity, training and future development of the industry, which would also embrace nitty-gritty negotiations on pay and conditions.
At the moment unions have an informal consultative link with the association, but the new deal takes the relationship much further. Union leaders believe it is a major advance for trade unionism in the North Sea.
Union sources believe the accord would not have been signed without the tacit approval of the big oil companies for which the contractors work. Some observers say it was reached in anticipation of a union recognition law which might have forced a deal on the contractors through litigation.
Of the 30,000 workers, the GMB general union claims 6,000 members and the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union 4,500. While the unions would not qualify for automatic recognition under government proposals as they do not have more than half the workers in membership, trade unionists believe they could command a majority in favour of recognition in a ballot.Reuse content