Offshore workers are being put on “zero-hours” contracts that are a threat to safety in the oil and gas industry and should be outlawed, a union boss said last night.
Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT, was speaking after it emerged energy service firm Bilfinger Salamis UK was signing people up on terms he said were tantamount to controversial zero-hours deals.
But the company denied this was the case, saying its employees were paid even if there was no work available and that “technical variations” to contracts gave it more flexibility in the oil and gas downturn.
Zero-hours contracts which put bosses under no obligation to offer work and leave employees permanently on call have been in the spotlight throughout the general-election campaign.
Labour leader Ed Miliband has pledged to end the “epidemic” of such terms, and pass a law that gives employees the right to a regular contract after 12 weeks of working regular hours.
The SNP says it will support tough action to end exploitative zero hours contracts – and make sure the Scottish Government does not employ anyone that way.
A contract of employment with Bilfinger Salamis UK seen by the Press and Journal carries clauses which Mr Molloy said were “appalling”.
The document, which is understood to relate to work on a contract for Apache, said: “The employer will designate the work/field break cycle at the start of each each work assignment on each offshore installation.
“The number of days on the offshore installation will vary according to operational requirements and may be varies at the sole discretion of the employer to meet operational requirements at any time and throughout the duration of this contract. Rotations offshore may be more or less than a 14 days’ work cycle.
“The employee will be advised of the estimated duration accordingly prior to mobilisation, but this may be subject to alteration at the sole discretion of the employer to meet operational requirements.”
It added: “For the avoidance of doubt, the employer reserves in its sole discretion the right to change work cycles for any assignment, either permanently or temporarily, as and when operational client or other business considerations require or dictate.
“This includes…a right to increase or reduce the length of time spent working offshore, to impose an unequal working time cycle or to impose an equal time working cycle and to vary the amount of field break accruing for time spent working offshore.”
Mr Molloy said the terms undermined efforts to improve safety offshore, raising the spectre of people avoiding reporting any concerns for fear of not getting more work.
“I’ve not seen a contract like these before,” he said, adding: “It means they (the company) can virtually do what they please. It’s appalling and has to be outlawed.”
A spokesman for Aberdeen-based Bilfinger Salamis UK said: “The contract mentioned is not a zero-hours contract.
“This particular contract is not new and has been based largely on a contract that Bilfinger has used for many years, but recent developments – driven by operators and the current economic climate – have required some technical variations.
“It is important to note also that employees who are offshore accrue one day’s paid field break for each night spent offshore. In addition, when employees are not working offshore and have exhausted field break and annual leave entitlements they are entitled to be paid guaranteed payments.
“Unlike zero-hours contracts, therefore, these employees are always paid, even if there is no work available for them.
“As far as these contracts operating as a deterrent to employees from reporting health and safety issues is concerned, Bilfinger has, and has always had, a very strong health and safety culture.
“The reporting of any health and safety issues is not only encouraged, but is mandatory.”
He added: “The offshore oil and gas industry is going through a period of substantial change. Contractors such as Bilfinger require to react to demands imposed upon them by operators, and operators in turn have to react to the ever-changing and deteriorating economic climate.
“After several months of detailed and intensive consultation with unions, changes are now being implemented across the industry to workers terms and conditions of employment. One small part of that is to create greater flexibility, which is seen as vital to the future viability of the industry.”
A spokeswoman for Oil and Gas UK said it was “not appropriate” for the industry body to comment.