A trade union boss has suggested creating a “job share” scheme to help safeguard North Sea oil industry workers’ positions until offshore activity ramps up next year.
Jake Molloy, chairman of the Offshore Coordinating Group (OCG), a coalition of unions, said companies could look at using their rota systems to keep “two or three people in one job”, albeit on reduced hours.
He made the suggestion after Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiled plans to implement a new Job Support Scheme once the existing furlough system ends next month.
The UK Government said the new initiative would protect “viable” jobs by providing wage top-ups.
Mr Molloy said the scheme had the potential to save some people’s jobs, but that the interpretation of the word “viable” could be a stumbling block.
Many North Sea oil companies intend to carry out large-scale maintenance programmes during the delayed Forties pipeline shutdown, currently scheduled for May.
Mr Molloy said he was concerned that jobs linked to those projects won’t be considered for the new scheme, which kicks off in November and lasts six months.
He said: “There’s going to be quite a lot of work going on next year so you could say some of that is a viable opportunity.
“There could be potential to look at using a rota system to retain two or three people in one job to facilitate their move into a work scope next year.
“That could help stop or slow down this endless redundancy cycle we are in.”
In April, the OCG warned 3,500 oil and gas jobs could be displaced by September.
But the group now believes 6,000 offshore jobs have already been wiped out and 3,000 onshore have gone with them.
Representative body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) said in April that up to 30,000 jobs could be lost in the following 12-18 months.
Fiona Herrell, employment partner at Brodies, based in Aberdeen, said the “devil would be in the detail” for oil and gas sector companies hoping to benefit from the new scheme.
The Treasury said all small and medium-sized enterprises would be eligible, but that large businesses would have to prove they had been adversely affected by Covid-19.
Ms Herrell said: “It is not yet clear which tests will be used to categorise a business as being small, medium or large nor how a large company will go about proving that its business has been adversely affected by Covid-19 as opposed to any other factors that may be at play.”
Furthermore, the government has said large employers won’t be allowed to pay out dividends while using the scheme – and that employees receiving wage support must not be on redundancy notice.
Ms Herrell said: “Employers in the oil and gas sector will need to consider carefully whether they are able to access financial support under the Job Support Scheme.”
Deirdre Michie, chief executive of industry body Oil and Gas UK, said: “We welcome the principle of support provided by the Chancellor today and will be pressing for more detail regarding eligibility for our supply chain, which remains in a fragile condition.
“To increase activity levels in the industry we need to be able to get more people working without compromising on the health and safety of our people.
“We continue to have conversations with government about the best way to do this so that we can quickly accelerate maintenance programmes and other activity as soon as possible.”