Workers Are The Bedrock Of Scotland’s Oil Industry
The oil and gas industry labour disputes might be over for now, but, writes PAT RAFFERTY, the future holds many questions
NO-ONE takes industrial action lightly. For the last two years our members at the oil and gas company Wood Group have dealt with redundancies and cuts to their wages and conditions — all without taking strike action.
But the prospect of losing up to 30 per cent in pay and allowances was simply too much to bear and our members at Wood Group took part in the first offshore strike for a generation in the North Sea. An agreement was eventually reached with Wood Group.
I pay tribute to our officers, stewards and members who stayed united, strong and determined during a difficult time and all who supported the workers taking strike action offshore both here in the UK and worldwide.
The dispute might be over but questions are still raised about the future of the oil and gas industry in Aberdeen and across Scotland.
Unite knows that North Sea operators are facing challenges due to falling oil prices. But companies have to realise that they can’t prop up their profits — or create a sustainable industry — by simply attacking the skilled workers who are the bedrock of their success.
And they should never — ever — make cuts that threaten health and safety and put the lives of our members at risk.
The lessons of the Piper Alpha disaster of 1988 — when 167 offshore workers and rescuers died, causing continuing grief and loss for families across the country — should never be forgotten.
Energy companies need to work with their staff to protect health and safety and build for the future. We cannot simply have a race to the bottom, with companies competing with each other to slash pay and conditions and turn livelihoods upside down. It’s bad for the industry. It’s bad for our members and it’s bad for the wider economy that relies on their income — especially in the north-east of Scotland.
But we recognise that industry and unions can’t do this alone. We need government to take a much more active role in dealing with the major issues facing the North Sea. We need a clear, workable strategy for decommissioning.
If workers here are to have any chance of benefiting from the removal and safe disposal and recycling of oil and gas infrastructure, we need the industry and government to put in proper investment and to ensure that companies co-operate and come up with business models and supply lines that work.
That simply has not been the case up until now. The result has been lost opportunities — as shown in August when Maersk granted a Norwegian port the contract to decommission its Janice Floating Production Unit.
And there have been scandals, like the recent news that a huge tanker owned by Maersk — instead of being properly decommissioned — had been found lying rusting on a beach in Bangladesh.
So there are opportunities in decommissioning — but we also need to concentrate on taking advantage of the opportunities that are still available for new exploration.
Last month (October 19), the Oil and Gas Authority (OGA) published research on the potential of small pools of oil and gas in British waters.
The OGA estimated that there was an equivalent of more than three billion barrels of oil untapped underneath the continental shelf, and described it as a “very significant opportunity.” This shows that there is potential for a new lease of life for the offshore industry in Scotland.
Companies should be encouraged to use their existing rigs and pipelines to recover pools wherever that’s possible.
However, a number of these small pools lie further away and will need new stand-alone solutions.
Our governments at Holyrood and Westminster could use their borrowing powers to take out public stakes in new offshore infrastructure.
When oil and gas was first discovered in the North Sea, we missed an incredible opportunity to create an oil fund like Norway — a resource that will support public investment and infrastructure for generations to come. Norway’s fund is now worth over $873 billion.
We can never match that, but taking out public stakes in new oil and gas opportunities in our waters would encourage companies to invest, would support jobs and would create returns for the public purse as the oil and gas from these pools begins to flow.
In July, we said that the British government’s Oil and Gas Workforce Plan was woefully inadequate and fell short of arresting a decline in the industry which has led to over 120,000 jobs being axed in the past few years.
We have repeatedly called for a summit of key industry figures and ministers from the Scottish and Westminster governments to hammer out an action plan to save the offshore oil and gas industry.
Our members are not short of ideas for the future of their industry. We need energy companies and governments to match their creative thinking and work alongside them for everyone’s benefit.
- Pat Rafferty is Unite Scottish secretary
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