A conversation about the future of the North Sea has begun.
Gabrielle Jeliazkov, working for oil watchdog “Platform”, has so far done all the heavy lifting. She surveyed upstream oil & gas workers and asked them about their future. The response from the workforce was magnificent and their voices point a way forward.
The Platform report on that survey sees the offshore trade unions as central players in the way forward. The response of RMT/OILC was immediate.
The union welcomed the report from environmental campaign groups on the role of oil and gas workers in a ‘Just Transition’ to a zero carbon economy. They say that “Offshore Oil & Gas Workers Must Deliver the Just Transition”.
So what is a “Just Transition”? The RMT union’s OILC Branch newsletter ‘Enough is Enough” says it is “much talked about”. But 91% of the workers who took the survey, hadn’t even heard the term. So it’s obviously not talked about enough. A welcome change is now under way.
It’s easiest described by looking at the last energy transition. In the 1980s coal gave way to gas. There was nothing “just” or fair about the way the coal industry was destroyed during the Thatcher era. The workers and their families were abandoned to unemployment and benefits. Their communities were trashed.
Now, as sure as gas followed coal, there is going to be a transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy. But whether it is going to be “just” depends on the actions of those who stand to lose their livelihoods and the viability of their communities.
If it’s left in the hands of the oil & gas industry we all know how they’ll handle it. They’ll do what they always do. They’ll sack workers and screw those who remain. The process is already under way again with 9,000 workers already gone this time, and the employers are predicting another 21,000 sackings over the next two years.
And still there’s no coherent plan to fully replace fossil fuels from the North Sea with wind, wave and solar power. The Government/industry plan for the North Sea is still to “maximise economic recovery” of oil & gas – that is produce every barrel they can turn a profit on, just using fewer people doing more work under deteriorating conditions. And when that’s over? Just suck in oil and gas from elsewhere?
Now there’s a chance for North Sea workers to develop that conversation. What is your future? What about your family’ and all those, both onshore and offshore, who have depended on the North Sea for a living?
Who else, apart from you and your families, really gives a shit?
Well the authors of this latest report obviously. The school strikers who want a future and see renewable energy replacing fossil fuel as the only hope for a habitable planet for their kids – they certainly “give a shit.” And probably every parent and grandparent who have had the luxury of the time to look at what kind of life their children and grandchildren are facing.
That’s a potentially unstoppable alliance.
But the result must be a transition that is fair or “just” to the workforce.