Union leaders have expressed “utter dismay and bemusement” after an oil company announced plans to cut about one-fifth of its workforce at a Shetland oil terminal. 

Around 80 jobs are set to be axed as operator EnQuest launches a cost-cutting move in a bid to secure new business.

The company is currently in talks with former operator BP to continue exporting oil to the Sullom Voe site from the huge Clair Field west of Shetland via an existing pipeline.

EnQuest is trying to retain the vital contract and stop oil being loaded offshore and by-passing the terminal.

Unite the union expressed “utter dismay” at the news, and said a ballot for industrial action was a possibility.

EnQuest, which owns the Sullom Voe terminal after taking over from BP in December 2017, told Unite it will open a six-week consultation period on the reduction of 60 full-time employees and 20 contractor positions at the site.

The consultation is expected to begin on July 23, with the company also proposing a renegotiation of the existing terms and conditions of the workforce in order to be “commercially competitive” and have the changes in place by January.

John Clark, of Unite, said: “There has been utter dismay and bemusement following the announcement by EnQuest to reduce the workforce.

“The sheer scale of the possible redundancies, which includes 60 full-time employees and 20 contractors, has taken everyone by surprise.

“To add insult to injury, EnQuest are also proposing to weaken the existing terms and conditions of the workforce. 

“Unite will not stand idly by and allow jobs to be sacrificed to facilitate a competitive edge for other projects. 

“We will explore every option, including balloting our members for industrial action.”

Craig Lennox, general manager of the Sullom Voe terminal, said: “We are going to enter into a period of consultation later this month looking at manning levels and looking at some terms and conditions. 

“This has followed a quite detailed review over the last six or seven months.

“We are looking to reduce the amount of budgeted positions for around about 80 individuals. That will be 60 staff and 20 contractors. We need to be a commercially competitive organisation. 

“Yes, there will be some pain, we’re trying to make that as small as possible. It’s a long-term strategy.”

Scottish Labour’s energy spokesman, Lewis Macdonald, said: “This is yet another example of big business pocketing profits from natural resources whilst local people lose out. 

“Oil and gas produced in the waters off Shetland has been processed at Sullom Voe for years and has supported hundreds of jobs in the process.

“Any further proposals to bypass the terminal by oil majors are already costing jobs in the local community and 

British-based operators like BP must recognise their social and economic responsibilities.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat Shetland MP Alistair Carmichael said: “While this news is not altogether unexpected, it is still disappointing.

“This process must be handled as sensitively as possible.”

“The unions and the company must now work together in the best interests of the workers, their families and the community more widely. This process must be handled as sensitively as possible.”