Anger as union chief slates North Sea helicopter safety call as cheap stunt

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell
Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell

A row has broken out between trade union chiefs in the north-east after a helicopter safety campaign was dismissed as a “cheap stunt”.

Ronnie McDonald, who has been described as a father of the offshore union movement, spoke out last night in a surprise attack on the Unite union and Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran.

He suggested they were using issues around helicopter safety as part of a “recruitment drive” for Unite, but both rejected the claims.

Unite launched its Back Home Safe campaign this month, following five North Sea helicopter crashes in the last four years.

It calls for a full public inquiry into the incidents, as well as safer emergency lighting and seating layouts on all offshore helicopters.

Mr Doran, a Labour MP, has also repeatedly demanded a judge-led inquiry, criticising the fact five different probes are under way, and this week lodged a motion in Westminster asking for MPs backing, as well as their support for the Unite safety campaign.

But Mr McDonald, who was the first general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee union and remains a director of a firm which trains offshore safety representatives, said the sector was already working together in an “unprecedented” way to improve safety.

He called for further details on Unite’s and Mr Doran’s objectives.

“I think, and other safety groups are in agreement with me here, to us it looks like a cheap stunt, a recruitment drive for Unite,” said Mr McDonald.

“I can’t understand the way Unite and Frank Doran are going high-profile with these demands without specifying what they want.

“What are they campaigning for that is not already being looked at in detail by the various industry forums?”

Mr Doran said last night: “My focus is the inquiry, and Unite and other unions support the aim of a public inquiry.

“I’m not involved in any recruitment drive by Unite, although if I could help them recruit members, I would,” Mr Doran said.

Tommy Campbell, Unite’s regional organiser, said: “The Back Home Safe campaign is a health and safety campaign led by this union.

“In respect of recruitment of offshore workers, that is a separate matter for our recruitment department.”