A group of protesters took to the streets of Aberdeen yesterday to challenge low pay and job losses imposed on UK seafarers and offshore workers.
Chants of “Aberdeen: port of shame” were heard as about 15 people marched on the office of Ross Thomson, Scottish Conservative MP for Aberdeen South, and the headquarters of Oil and Gas UK (OGUK).
The demonstration was staged as part of the Save Our Seafarers campaign by the RMT trade union, which was outraged by the UK Government’s publication of guidance on seafarers’ pay last month.
RMT complained the guide would have “no impact” and accused several oil and gas operators and vessel contractors of paying seafarers less than the national minimum wage.
The union also alleged that OGUK “routinely defended pay and employment practices that would be illegal on land”, an accusation the industry body denied.
During yesterday’s protests, RMT national secretary Steve Todd, said: “We want to end the social dumping in Aberdeen, the slave labour, and to introduce proper rates of pay that people can live on, that give our members and our citizens a level playing field.
“Thousands of oil workers have lost their jobs as a result of cheap labour being brought in.
“We know that there’s been a big oil slump, but that slump is ending, things are turning the corner, and we’re seeing more ships coming in with cheap labour on board.
“We don’t mind anyone coming here to work, provided they’re paid the same rate of pay as ourselves. This industry needs to be clean. The oil and gas operators know what’s needed. They should be stipulating that people are paid on proper rates.”
Mr Thomson, who wasn’t in his office when protesters arrived yesterday, said: “I would be interested to hear the concerns that the RMT Union have on this issue, but I have not been contacted by anyone either locally or nationally.
“It is disappointing, however, that the RMT union have not been in touch with me and have chosen to protest outside my office instead.
“I am travelling to London this morning so will not have the opportunity to go out and engage with them.”
A UK government spokesman said: “We have made it crystal clear that if you work in UK internal waters you are entitled to at least the minimum wage and all employers – no matter where they’re from – must pay it.
“Border Force and HMRC are taking action to ensure employers understand their legal responsibilities and that workers know their rights.”
Alix Thom, OGUK’s workforce engagement and skills manager, said: “We have not, and would not, defend any practices that were not compliant with UK employment law, and we continue to work regularly with our members and the unions, including RMT, on employment matters through our work forums.”
Saipem, one of the companies singled out by RMT, said UK nationals were the “most represented nationality working on the Miller decommissioning project” for BP.
The Italy-headquartered firm said it was “fully compliant” with the International Transport Federation (ITF) on “rates of pay and working conditions.”
GulfMark UK said it could “categorically state” that all seafarers on-board its vessels trading in the UKCS were “paid above UK national living and minimum wage”.