An American-style hardball approach to contracts and working conditions is rising among North Sea firms, according to a top employment lawyer.
Hayley Johnson, a senior associate in employment law with Edinburgh firm Slater and Gordon, said that over the last five years she’s witnessed a “climb down” of collective commitment to fair working conditions across the sector, with many firms “stripping away” benefits and reducing pay.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) said it didn’t “recognise the claims”.
Ms Johnson said: “Over the last five years, broadly in line with when it started costing more to extract oil from the North Sea and Aberdeen faced its challenges, what I’ve seen is a lot of the companies seem to be combing through employment contracts and working out where they can save money – stripping away benefits they can claim are non-contractual or even going as far as consulting to unilaterally reduce pay and removing bonuses.”
Ms Johnson said that when jobs were plentiful the industry could afford to be ”a bit lax” about enforcing employment conditions.
But she added that it was now time to start “closing loopholes” to enshrine workers’ rights.
According to Reed Recruitment, the current average wage in the North Sea oil and gas sector is around £45,000 for an offshore drilling worker.
OGUK workforce engagement and skills manager Alix Thom said: “Whilst we don’t recognise these claims, we would encourage anyone with specific concerns to raise these with their employers and union representatives.
“OGUK will always support compliance with legislation and works with our members to make the industry the employer of choice.”
Ms Johnson said that when her firm litigates against such claims, she has found “an absolute American approach” whereby firms will “not give any ground” and will often retain “a really expensive lawyer to give them a better chance of winning the case”.
She added: “It’s a very different approach to how British lawyers would approach the situation.
“Even when it is a British employer, what we find now is that if they’re owned by US firms their approach is very much informed by that robust American minimum employment rights manner.
“It is not a good time to work in the sector.”