Almost 40% of the North Sea workforce has been cut as operators attempt to wrestle with the growing coronavirus crisis.
Trevor Stapleton, Oil and Gas UK’s HSE director, said more than 4,000 crew and staff have been stood down over the last few weeks as offshore firms look to move to a skeleton staff.
The North Sea averaged a standing offshore workforce of 11,500 before the Covid-19 outbreak, while today the number sits at around 7,000.
It is understood to affect mainly uplift workers, nonessential contractors and those with underlying health conditions.
Many crew are on standby, receiving only four hours pay a day.
An offshore union representative said “many people are suffering a lot of hardship right now as these cuts are made”.
Mr Stapleton said: “If you look at the nonessential projects, they’ve all been put on hold.
“Minimum manning allows continuous, safe operations, make no mistake about that, but now firms are focussing on safety and critical operations and is necessary breakdown maintenance.”
But Mr Stapleton added that offshore operators “must not” look to reduce cleaning staff during the coronavirus crisis.
He said: “There will be certain people that you wouldn’t need, so that’s how we are managing it.
“In terms of cleaning staff, it has been highlighted that it is a bit of an issue and one we are looking to address in the next couple of days to make sure that cleaning will take top priority.
“We are saying that of all the people we are looking at in terms of minimum manning, do not pick on cleaning staff.”
Jake Molloy, RMT regional organiser, called on the UK Government to act now to save the jobs of North Sea workers.
He said: “When we come out the other side of this we are going to need these workers.
“As it stands right now, time is simply something we do not have.”
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said oil and gas companies were “unilaterally sending staff home with no regard to their future income, work or health”.
He added: “Employers have failed to engage with offshore trade unions over standardising the industry’s response to Coronavirus, even when there have been cases diagnosed on North Sea platforms, yet the UK Government stands by and watches thousands of skilled energy workers being dumped without any comment whatsoever.
“The Offshore Co-ordinating Group of trade unions and the STUC are meeting the Scottish Energy Minister, Paul Wheelhouse later today.
“We hope those talks deliver something meaningful.”