Offshore workforce not ‘hopeful’ about oil upturn in North Sea fortunes

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell
Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell
Opinion by Tommy CampbellUnite regional organiser

The offshore industry has faced some extremely challenging times in recent years.

However, by all accounts the turnaround has arrived and there is real optimism in the offshore oil and gas sector’s future once more.

A survey published by the Fraser of Allander Institute shows positive activity in the UK Continental Shelf;  41% of businesses are now working at, or about optimum levels and levels of optimism are at their highest since 2013.

Yet Unite member’s offshore are not feeling that same level of optimism or hope.

The sector has gone through peaks and troughs before but Unite members are reporting that this time it’s different.  The attack on pay, terms and conditions has continued in the upturn.

Workers in the sector are being industrially pummelled by employers in a continual drive to cut costs despite making huge profits. This is all the more disappointing for Unite members as they worked hard during the downturn to ensure the industry remained stable. However now the upturn has arrived workers continue to remain a target for North Sea operators in their pursuit of ever greater profit.

Negotiations on pay have been ongoing for most of 2018 with Unite  members covered by the OCA once again rejecting the pay offer made to them. Employers are refusing to act fairly or reasonably by giving a fairer share to those that produce the profit.

There are also  real concerns around H&S in the industry with Unite having anecdotal evidence that when issues are raised, those that raise them may find that they are Not Required Back (NRB).  In order for the sector to remain safe and successful it needs a workforce with the skills, experience and courage to react to challenging situations quickly not to be fearful of raising H&S concerns.

There is also the offshore workforce’s complete lack of confidence in the Super Puma helicopter  and the campaign to  keep the North Sea Super Puma free will continue in 2019 and beyond working together with all the other offshore based Trade Unions with the UK and Norwegian sectors.

It therefore makes little sense to implement 3 on 3 weeks  off shift rotas which our members tell us are resulting in the potential for increased risk to them and to safety critical work.

It is the sign of good management to ensure the workforce are listened to so that they feel valued and are treated fairly and with dignity and respect. Yet our Unite members offshore report that they feel undervalued, exploited and unfairly treated.

They are being forced onto shift patterns that are hated, the numbers employed on permanent contracts are being reduced and in some cases H&S concerns are not being fully addressed.

Unite welcomed Shell’s decision to abandon these shift rotas which provide a better work/life balance and we would urge other North Sea operators to call a halt to implementing 3:3 rotas and instead listen to their workforce.

The sector has shifted from one where job security was more or less guaranteed to one where workers fear for their jobs, their health and wellbeing is being tested and morale is at an all-time low.

It doesn’t take an occupational psychologist to tell you that the combination of these experiences doesn’t make for healthy, productive workers. Work based stress leads to low motivation, increased anxiety and depression.

Attitudes within the industry need to change to reflect and recognise the hard work, dedication and courage of the  workers in our offshore industry.

North Sea operators should start treating workers as an asset to be nurtured not a cost to be borne and to share the rewards  with the workers through job security and improved terms and conditions of employment.