A trade union boss has hailed the progress made by the oil and gas industry in its quest to create a new collective deal covering thousands of North Sea workers.
RMT general secretary Mick Cash said he was “extremely encouraged” to see that 15 employers had committed to developing the proposed Energy Services Agreement (ESA) by year end.
Mr Cash said finalising the ESA would be an “historic” event and believes the pact could take the sting out of the “boom and bust cycles” which have caused “extreme difficulties” in recent years.
The ESA is intended as a replacement for the Offshore Contractors Partnership Agreement (OCPA), which is being dissolved at the end of 2020.
The OCPA, which set minimum rates of pay and standards for employees, had been negotiated by the Offshore Contractors’ Association (OCA) and unions since 1995.
But OCA members — namely Aker Solutions, Brand, Muehlhan, Petrofac, Stork, Worley and Wood — felt the agreement was outdated, convoluted and put them at a disadvantage to rivals who didn’t adhere to it.
The association’s influence had also been weakened in recent years by the withdrawal of Bilfinger Salamis and Sparrows from the group.
But members have been holding talks with trade unions in an effort draw up an alternative to the OCPA in time for the start of 2021.
They were determined to get more companies involved and received a boost in September when Altera, Kaefer, Oleochem, Ponticelli and Semco Maritime agreed to help develop the ESA.
Altrad, Navitas and ODE have now joined their ranks, taking the number of companies who are committed to delivering the new agreement to 15.
If the ESA gets over the line with the current set of participants, it would cover around 5,200 workers.
ESA project leader Gordon Stirling said he hoped more companies would sign up once they have seen a final version and better understand its benefits.
His team, which is working on behalf of participating companies, has now shifted its focus to concluding the agreement and getting employers and unions signed over the next two months.
Mr Stirling, formerly of Wood, also said companies wanted to include a rate adjustment mechanism linking workers’ pay to oil and gas prices.
He insisted this step would not lead to “wild fluctuations” in pay rates as a “cap and a collar” – or minimum and maximum adjustments – would be applied.
Mr Stirling is confident the proposed deal will provide “transparency”, “certainty” and “stability” for operators, supply chain companies and employees.
Mick Cash, who announced his plans to retire from RMT earlier this week, said: “The news that 15 major employers have committed to work with the unions in the establishment of a framework for collective bargaining in the offshore energy sector is extremely encouraging.
The collaborative working of the trade unions and industry is an illustration of what is required to deliver a just and green recovery for workers and the UK energy supply chain. What we want to see now is Government support for this exemplar in collaboration.
“If successful, this new ESA will be ground breaking — a first of its kind for the UK energy sector. This would be an historic event for a sector which has seen boom and bust cycles causing extreme difficulties for workers and employers alike over the last decade.
“Stability, sustainability and security of employment for the sector are critical and this deal could deliver.”