“A couple of hundred onshore oil workers, along with their families, are about to suffer a sore blow. The UK’s richest man, Jim Ratcliff has been forced to take time off from trying to get his hands on more taxpayers money, to throw them out of work.
Oil refining at Grangemouth, it seems, needs rationalisation. So he’s going to rationalise 187 of the 687 workers onto the dole. As far as he’s concerned it’s fuck the furlough! Sir James doesn’t need the time to plan any alternative green jobs and to retrain the workforce. A new green deal? Not his concern. It’s just business as usual – stagger on in the old ways in the face of a rapidly changing world where science is screaming about global warming and climate chaos and the need for a transition away from oil & gas.
But this is not an isolated incident in the oil & gas industry. In recent months about 9,000 workers from offshore and the supply chain have already been forced down the road in this latest oil market chaos. The industry is a basket case. Who knows if the 30,000 job losses predicted (threatened?) over the next couple of years by Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) include these 187 onshore oil workers or not. Probably not!
The North Sea is pretty much invisible to the media. It seems they can only see what the oil industry PR departments tell them they can see. Reminds me of the jumbo jet that David Copperfield used to make disappear. It’s a trick! But it may not be quite so easy when it comes to Grangemouth and Ratcliff. His PR is not quite so good. Maybe this is what will ignite a discussion about how we address the issue of fossil fuels.
It’s not like any of any of these job losses are unexpected or unavoidable. We know the transition to renewable energy is inevitable and necessary. But we also know that if it’s left in the hands of the Ratcliff and the oil companies the transition will be botched, with little thought for either the workers or the planet.
For the transition to be done in a rational way – for it to be “fair” – it require us all to be involved in the discussions and the decisions. Ratcliff and company are concerned above all about their bottom line. We’re expected to sit by and watch as jobs go and Ratcliff gets on with looking after his own interests.
The oil and gas industry plan is to hang on in there and, in cahoots with the Government, to produce every single drop of oil and gas they can. They call it “maximising economic recovery” (MER). The plan is to let the chaotic oil markets determine how and when the industry will run down and workers livelihoods and lives trashed. And in the meantime we’re supposed to hope these same oil companies come up with an alternative to their own fossil fuel, just in case the planet is still inhabitable once these bastards are finished with it.
“Net zero by 2050” (or 2045 – the Scottish variant) is what our Governments are promising. But it’s just smoke and mirrors. The plan is actually to produce as much oil & gas from the North Seas as will turn a profit, and for as long as possible. Along with this we’re going to get the greenhouse gasses associated with burning fossil fuel. Imagine this masterplan replicated worldwide. Petroineos is a small cog in that wheel.
There’s obviously going to be no rational plan to extricate us from a nightmare that threatens the lives of our grandchildren and their grandchildren never mind the livelihoods of energy workers unless we all have a say in what needs to happen. The responsibility for beginning the conversation that might possibly lead to some rational plan lies with those workers, their families and their communities, who will first bear the brunt. If not them then who?
No dumping workers and their families. Those who want to must be allowed and encouraged to get into green jobs to replace the fossil fuel industry that’s killing us. If they need retraining then that’s what has to happen. We need clean energy to replace fossil fuels. It’s not rocket science – it’s climate science. And if we don’t have a renewables industry that can take up our skilled workers and provide us with a future, it needs to be built.
Start the conversation!
The last group of workers in the UK who fell foul of an energy transition were the coal miners. And when I say “fell foul of”, I mean got utterly fucked by.
The miners’ strike was a while back. 1984-85. Unless you were part of a miner’s family or lived in a pit village I’m guessing that you won’t really remember it unless you’re at least 45 years old. Doesn’t mean you won’t have read about it or watched film footage.
This is – and is not – like 1985. Back then the miners’ communities didn’t know they were in an “energy transition”. They thought they were just being fucked by Thatcher because they wanted a decent wage and stood up to her and her bullies, and that she wanted to destroy them and their union – all the unions. With hindsight that’s what the Thatcher Government did pretty much do. Certainly the miners union is no more and the offshore unions never functioned worth a fuck, with one notable, but short lived exception. And you’d have to be at least over 52 today and have been on the North Sea when Piper Alpha went up to have any experience of that time.
Maybe back in the mid 1980s some people did know about global warming and the fact it was caused by burning fossil fuels. I certainly didn’t. Mind you I hadn’t even begun to give global warming much thought 30 years later when I retired from offshore Norway in 2015. But everyone at least “knows” about global warming these days.
But whatever the reasons, and whatever we think about global warming, we do know one thing – coal’s gone and the transition from oil & gas to renewables is well under way and there’s no way back thanks to global concern about global warming. But the transition can still be botched, and if it’s left in the hands of our industry the chances are pretty high that it will be.
In all the years I worked offshore – my whole working life – I met one ex-miner offshore. Why would that be? I can think of a few possibilities. The employers wanted trade union militants offshore like they wanted a hole in the head. Specially most of the “Yanks “who came over and who dominated the drilling industry. They came predominantly from the Deep South and most thought that black skinned people and trade unionists were sub-human. OK! Maybe the majority of miners weren’t carrying skills that were immediately transferrable to the North Sea, but then again neither were the butchers and bakers, painters and teachers that came into drilling. Maybe it was a bit different on the hook-ups where they needed the guys with engineering skills. Still not many openings there for most miners I guess.
The point I’m trying to make, rightly or wrongly, is that the transition is happening and it’s not going to stop. On top of that the industry is dysfunctional and periodically fucks off workers when the oil markets slump. And as long as the decisions about the future of the energy transition and the North Sea oil industry is the exclusive property of the Government and the oil industry, there is absolutely no guarantee that the majority of oil & gas workers will not go the way of the coal miners – onto the scrapheap.
Who knows how this situation will pan out? I don’t! And I’m not saying that all we have to do is start talking to each other and that’ll be the solution to a looming jobs crisis where 30,000 workers are predicted to go in the next year and a half.
But if we don’t begin to speak and begin to work out what we want out of this transition, we’ll get shafted just as the miners were before us.
Join the conversation. You don’t have to know the answers.Click here to see the original article at peopleandnature
Most UK oil workers would consider switching to another industry – and, if given the option to retrain, more than half would choose to work on renewable energy, a survey published today shows.
The survey blasts a hole in the argument by trade union leaders that every last drop of oil must be produced, supposedly to preserve jobs. Actually, workers are ready to move away from fossil fuel production – as long as they can work and their families don’t suffer.
The 1383 offshore workers who responded to the survey crave job security, above all. Nearly half of them had been laid off or furloughed since oil prices crashed in March.
Many complained about precarious employment and the contract labour now rife on the North Sea.
The survey, Offshore: oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, was put together by Platform London, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace.
The survey’s authors seem to be the first people who have actually asked workers what they think.
The Scottish government has a comfortably-funded Just Transition Commission, including trade union chiefs, that recently ran a consultation on its interim report.
But it was campaign groups, working with activists on the ground, who bothered to talk to offshore workers.
The survey, distributed via social media and targeted advertising, garnered 1546 responses. The results excluded replies by 163 people who work in midstream or downstream industries, and are focused on the 1383 respondents who work upstream. That’s a representative sample: about 4.5% of the workforce.
One of the survey’s most sobering results is that, when asked if they had heard of a “just transition”, a staggering 91% of survey respondents said no. (The term “just transition”, nowadays used and misused by politicians, was coined by trade union militants in the 1990s to define the need to fight for social justice during the switch away from fossil fuel burning and other ecologically ruinous practices.)
The Offshore report’s authors comment:
Clearly, campaigners and NGOs lobbying for just transition, and policymakers tasked with implementing one, have failed to reach oil and gas communities – the people who ought to be most central to transition plans.
Despite not sharing vocabulary with the chattering classes, North Sea workers are very clear that the future lies away from oil and gas.
Asked, “would you consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry?”, 81.7% said yes, 7% said no and 10% said they did not know. The survey’s authors commented:
The fact that a huge majority of workers are interested in leaving the industry speaks volumes about the stability and future of oil and gas. There are of course a multitude of reasons why anyone would consider changing jobs, but it is clearly that the offshore workforce is willing to make large lifestyle changes given the opportunity.
In case studies and written responses, the vast majority of offshore workers state that they are fed up with the lack of security, decreasing employment rights and hostile conditions.
Of the 7% who would not consider moving, the three main reasons given were that they were close to retirement age; that the offshore work schedule allowed them to spend time with their families; and concern that their skills would not be transferable.
Asked what was most important to them in considering a move, respondents replied: (1) job security (contract length, pension, etc), 58%; (2) pay, 21%; (3) similar work schedule, 11%; (4) health and safety regulations, 5%.
The survey’s authors reported “a palpable exhaustion with the precarious nature of work offshore”.
North Sea workers are also ready to participate in the transition to renewable energy production, judging by the survey.
Asked, “if you could receive training or education to help you move to a new part of the energy sector, what education or skills training would you be interested in?”, and allowed to choose as many of ten options as they liked, the responses were:
Offshore wind 53%
Rig decommissioning 38%
Carbon capture and storage 26%
Non-energy sector 20%
Solar installation 19%
Geothermal technologies 18%
Battery technologies 16%
Electrical engineering 13%
A barrier to the transition to renewable energy is the lack of adequately-funded training schemes, the survey showed. Respondents complained that they are expected to pay for courses and qualifications themselves – and the bills are counted in thousands of pounds.
Survey respondents criticised the lack of government support for workers:
The overwhelming majority [of respondents] asked for some form of training, support to leave the industry or investment in renewables. Other prevalent themes included a need to invest in decommissioning, financial support and local supply chains.
The report ends by saying that Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Greenpeace will be running a participatory consultation of oil and gas workers across the UK. “Workshops will enable energy workers to draft policy demands for a transition that works for them, and a renewables industry they want to work in.”
The report urges “energy workers, union branches, local communities, environmental groups or other stakeholders” to get involved.
Today’s report shows that North Sea workers are well aware that the false choice that trade union leaders talk about – fossil-fuel production or unemployment – has nothing to do with reality.
On the contrary, a move out of the oil industry could be, from workers’ point of view, a chance to say goodbye to precarious contracts and the constant fear of sudden lay-offs.
Offshore workers’ readiness to retrain to work on renewable energy, as shown in the survey, strikes a refreshing contrast with trade union officials’ approach. They back the oil companies’ and governments’ plans to keep pumping oil until there is no more money to be made from it.
The oil companies present this climate-wrecking policy in “green” wrapping paper, Vision 2035 – which cynically claims to aim at “net zero” emissions, while continuing to pump a million barrels a day.
But the underlying strategy of “maximising economic recovery”, i.e. wringing out every last drop, is unchanged.
This approach is not only incompatible with combating dangerous global warming, but also avoids focusing on the really urgent job of closing down oil and gas production and planning other futures for workers and communities (as NGOs have argued in the Sea Change report, for example).
In April, when the oil price slump triggered a new wave of lay-offs, the union bosses reiterated their sympathy for “a longer term investment strategy” in oil, rather than accelerating the switch to non-fossil technologies. The Unite, GMB, RMT, Nautilus International, BALPA and Prospect unions all fell in line, rather than treating the Covid-19 crisis as an opportunity to leave behind the fossil-fuel-centred economy.
Surely what is needed now is a real discussion in communities and among workers about how to shape the just transition, to achieve social justice and to contribute to tackling climate change. Hopefully, the participatory consultation proposed in today’s report will be part of this. GL, 29 September 2020.
Comments by North Sea workers (from the report)
On precarious work …
■ As I was self employed prior to April, the company put me on a PAYE contract even though the government delayed its implementation of the IR35 rule [rules that apply to off-payroll work contracts]. Consequently I now earn less, have to pay for all my courses out of my wages, and I have no employee safeguards or protection. It seems the oil companies have got away with everything but the workforce gets hammered. […] A union won’t stop this, it needs government intervention to hold these companies to account in the way they are treating the entire workforce.
■ I’ve gone to agencies who employ contractors as staff, and have had to go back as an independent contractor and take a 25% pay cut. This is happening on a wide scale. It’s very attractive to companies because they have to take on the risks of employees. I fear in the long term that IR35s will allow for companies to get rid of workers whenever they want. They have zero risk, they can take 150 guys and then get rid of 150 guys six months later.
On retraining …
■ At my last job […] our safety guy had worked in oil for 15-20 years. He applied for a job on [a wind farm] and it was going to be offshore. He was told he’d have to do the offshore survival course for wind. If he wanted the job he would have to spend at least £1000 for offshore wind qualifications. But the main theory behind offshore survival is surviving a helicopter crash, and it’s the same helicopter if you are going offshore to a wind turbine or an oil rig. Even a half day conversion course would be better, because as it stands it’s perceived as a money-making scam.
■ We need retraining and a job at the end of it. I can’t get any work. I was an agency worker so I get no money or help whilst not working. I have to use the money I have previously earned to live. I can’t claim one single penny from the government, it’s soul destroying. I am 52 years old and I feel my life is finished already.
■ Offer courses either free or heavily subsidised, unlike the last downturn in oil and gas where it was an absolute nightmare to get funding for retraining. They made it so difficult and unrealistic that the local governments basically pilfered the funds for themselves. They should offer better rates than what is given from the completely useless and proven to be absolutely abysmal Universal Credit. No-one can survive on that.
On the energy transition …
■ Up until now we’ve been quite reliant on oil and gas for transport, heating and generation of electricity, and obviously that’s going to have to change. […] If we want to look at training people towards understanding how we maintain our planet, it’s really important that people understand that there are ideas out there that are fantastic. But of course, not all of them are that sustainable, including biomass. I’m interested in a degree in tidal generation, mostly because we live near Montrose and there’s a three square mile basin that fills with seawater every day. […] It empties and fills twice a day, and I can’t help but think ‘surely we could be taking advantage of that’.
■ Offshore: oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition
■ Scot.E3 (Employment, Energy, Environment) – a grass-roots campaign for just transition
■ The North Sea: the reaction to Piper Alpha – about union organisation in the 1980s
■ Oil, coal and resistance: a wee history of Scotland’s fossil fuel industry