Union officials are targeting individual organisations and industrial sectors in preparation for the introduction of a law enforcing recognition where more than 50 per cent of employees vote for it.
The MSF white collar union yesterday announced its intention to "organise" employees in the North Sea oil industry. Roger Spiller, the union's national offshore secretary, pointed out that BP, Conoco, Mobil and Marathon were all resisting recognition but were now the subject of a new campaign by MSF.
The union also claimed yesterday that it had won negotiating rights at Elf's North Sea subsidiary after a 99.4 per cent vote in favour of recognition in a ballot organised by conciliation service Acas. Of 183 ballot papers issued, 159 returned votes in favour of union rights, with one spoiled paper and none against. It was the first vote taken in advance of Labour legislation and could mean that other ballots will be held elsewhere in advance of the law being passed and to avoid any possible litigation.
Roger Lyons, general secretary of MSF, said the vote was also held as a result of an initiative taken by the works council, set up under European law.
Representatives from France and Sweden on the council backed the idea of a ballot among British employees on the grounds that the company should have a "democratic attitude" to all its employees irrespective of nationality.
The latest issue of MSF Report, the union's journal, points out that the vote for recognition was achieved despite Elf's insistence that offshore workers did not want to be represented by a union. The union however now argues that Elf employees at the Piper Bravo platform - sister to Piper Alpha where more than 160 workers were killed in an explosion - together with colleagues at the Claymore and Saltire rigs had now secured full union rights.
An Elf spokeswoman said yesterday that the union would still have to prove that half or more of employees were fully paid-up members of MSF. "It is one thing to vote for recognition, quite another to be a union member," she said.
Mr Spiller said the union would be stepping up its campaign elsewhere in the sector where British unions had consistently failed to secure a foothold. It is understood the Amalgamated Engineering and Electrical Union is also targeting the offshore industry in a campaign to win negotiating rights.
Mr Lyons said the union intended to take "full advantage" of the new atmosphere which would be created by a Labour government.