Offshore workers’ demands take on Government inaction and industry profiteering
- Coalition of offshore oil and gas workers, climate groups and trade unions back a new plan that would deliver a just transition away from fossil fuels to protect jobs, communities and climate. In the face of political refusal to plan a transition, workers are ready to lead.
- Over 1000 surveyed oil and gas workers support transformative demands to remove immediate barriers to transitioning into renewables; to ensure safety, job security and fair pay across the energy industry; and a longer-term vision for sharing the benefits of our energy system fairly
- Costed demands include a permanent Energy Excess Profits tax, a sovereign wealth fund, public ownership, rig decommissioning costs to be paid for by polluting companies, and a minimum wage for migrant workers.
‘Our Power: offshore workers’ demands for a just energy transition’ is an industry first, putting workers front and centre in a plan for decarbonisation and public ownership, campaigners say. The plan comes amidst a winter of unprecedented strikes and struggles for fair conditions at work, affordable energy and stronger public services.
‘Our Power’ gathers together demands, costed proposals and case studies that show how offshore oil and gas workers can lead a just energy transition, and why they must. The demands follow two years of workshops and research with people who work in the offshore oil and gas industry, coordinated by Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform.The demands created by workers are published as the Scottish Government is consulting on their first Just Transition Plan for the energy sector. Campaigners are urging Scottish Ministers to ‘pick up these demands and run with them’ to help protect workers and communities currently dependent on the oil and gas industry.
Need to improve conditions, pay and training
Surveyed workers demand fair pay and protections across the sector, arguing that we cannot model offshore wind in the broken image of the oil industry. This research shows:
- Salary thresholds set by UK Government immigration rules have been waived for the offshore wind sector for the past 5 years. On SSE’s Beatrice wind farm off the Scottish coast, for example, crew were paid less than £5 per hour while working 12 hour days, 7 days a week.
- Whistleblowing protections do not apply to self-employed workers, which make up a substantial proportion of an increasingly casualised workforce, leaving many workers vulnerable to blacklisting and victimisation for speaking out.
- Training standards body GWO (wind) has so far failed to come to an agreement with OPITO (oil & gas) and other bodies on standardising training across the offshore sector, meaning duplication and extra costs to workers.
Mark*, a rigging supervisor who has worked offshore for twenty years, described declining pay and the need for a government-backed jobs guarantee:
“When I was working on the River Tyne, I spoke to a guy who had worked in the oil and gas industry for 40 years. He asked me where I got my survival suit, because he wanted one for the winter. Not to go out anywhere or for work, but to sit inside at home. He couldn’t afford his gas and electric over the winter. To have someone who has worked their whole lives in the industry asking me a question like that, I felt like crying.”
Oliver, 42, Mud Engineer offshore for 12 years talked about the impact of the industry on Aberdeen:
“The whole city is dependent on oil because there’s so many people attached to the industry. It’s noticeable in Aberdeen when there’s an oil price crash, everything’s a lot quieter, everyone is worried about their jobs, there’s not as much money about. I don’t think anyone really likes it, a lot of people who work in industry have been fed up with it for years.”
Demands for fairer energy system that benefits public good
A worker-led just transition would reinvest money in communities through a sovereign wealth fund and share the benefits of our energy system fairly. The UK is losing out on revenue that could support households and public services, while private, polluting companies profit. The current energy system results in:
- Globally, just five oil and gas firms made almost $200billion profit in 2022.
- Low taxation means companies in the UK take home the highest proportion of revenue of any country, – the UK Government took less than a tenth of what the Norwegian Government took in taxes per barrel of oil in 2019.
- Despite huge profits, 73% of oil and gas companies invest nothing in renewable energy production in the UK.
Julie*, who works as a Heli Admin in Aberdeen, described why she supports public ownership of energy:
“Public ownership would mean decent contracts, permanent work and that workers would be treated with respect. It’s less of a danger to our working environment than having someone who is cowed, stressed or worried about their livelihoods. If you look at places like Norway, the attitude of the Norwegians is so different to the attitude in Britain. They own stakes, own rigs themselves. It gives them a greater responsibility. It would be ours, we’d be part of the big machine, we own it, we run it and it’s for us.”
The demands have been backed by over 1000 surveyed offshore oil and gas workers, alongside major unions and organisations working in the energy and climate sector, including the RMT, Unite Scotland, Unison Scotland and Uplift, among others. The demands are comprehensive in their scope, transformative in their scale, and deliverable now. As it stands, offshore workers across the RMT, Unite and GMB are looking to industrial action over existing pay and conditions, with more than 10% of the workforce being balloted by Unite alone.
Pressure on both Government to act on worker demands
The UK Government remains legally committed to drilling every last drop of oil from UK waters but the Scottish Government has said they will end their support for this policy as part of their new Energy Strategy. The Scottish Government is also consulting on whether there should be a presumption against exploring for new oil and gas and limits on existing fields. A quicker phase out of oil and gas increases the importance of a plan to manage workers through the transition.
Despite commitments by the Scottish Government to co-design their Just Transition Plan, direct involvement of oil and gas workers has been limited to an online survey so far. The chair of the Just Transition Commission wrote to the Minister for Just Transition, Employment and Fair Work about his ‘deep concern’ after the Government failed to consult with them on the Plan. The Plan includes a number of Just Transition outcomes but no route map to delivering them.
Campaigners say that the demands show that the Scottish Government needs to create clear pathways out of high carbon jobs for workers, and ensure that there are plenty of local green jobs resulting from domestic renewables manufacturing. Scottish Ministers should be urging their Westminster counterparts for enhanced rights for workers, a wage floor and better protection for whistleblowers and to ensure the benefits of energy generation are more evenly shared through excess profits tax and a sovereign wealth fund.
Friends of the Earth Scotland head of campaigns Mary Church, said:
“Our current energy system is destroying our climate, is unaffordable to millions and is failing the people who work in it. Climate science is crystal clear that we have to rapidly phase out fossil fuels if we want a liveable future.
“Failure from politicians to properly plan and support the transition to renewables is leaving workers totally adrift on the whims of oil and gas companies, and the planet to burn. The Scottish Government must pick up these demands and run with them as part of their just transition plan for the energy sector.”
Platform just transition campaigner Gabrielle Jeliazkov said:
“The future of the UK’s energy system should be in the hands of workers and communities. Industry profiteering and government inaction has left us with soaring bills, declining working conditions and no plan for an energy transition.
“In the midst of the climate and cost of living crises, offshore oil and gas workers have developed a way forward. Politicians must deliver on these demands. We cannot trust obstructive industry bosses to develop solutions that protect workers, communities and the climate.”
The RMT’s Regional Organiser Jake Molloy said:
“The workforce must be fully engaged, involved, and empowered in the process if we are to achieve a real just transition. Politicians must wake up to the fact that we need a new model. The current lack of a real transition plan from politicians and industry is failing the existing workforce, fuelling discontent and disillusionment which is evident with the growing number of disputes and industrial action.
“These demands are the start of an energy plan that will deliver affordable and secure energy, through secure employment across the energy sector. We need an industry that protects domiciled and migrant workers, who must be paid as UK workers and not exploited for greater profit. We need a manufacturing base to support new developments and decommissioning. The voice of the workforce must be heard!”
The full list of worker-led demands
1 Workers at the centre of transition planning
2 Clear, accessible pathways out of high carbon jobs
3 A training regime built to keep workers safe, instead of for profit
4 Invest in domestic manufacturing and assembly for renewables
5 Collective bargaining with strong rank and file unions across the whole offshore industry
6 Establish universal rights and a wage floor across the UKCS
7 Effective and trusted whistleblowing procedures
8 Public energy for the public good
9 Reorganise the tax system for the public good
10 No community left behind
*Fear of blacklisting causes many workers not to speak out. Names of contributors have been changed to protect their identities.