The environmental campaign groups Platform, Friends of the Earth Scotland, and Greenpeace have jointly published a report surveying oil and gas workers’ views about their working conditions, and the future of their industry in the context of the coronavirus pandemic and the climate crisis.
The report reveals an understanding amongst workers that their industry is unsustainable, but no confidence in either industry bosses or government to ensure a transition process that protects workers’ livelihoods.
43% of workers surveyed had been furloughed or made redundant since March. 81% said they were considering leaving the industry. More than 50% said that, given the option to retrain, they would be interested in jobs in the renewable energy sector.
One worker said: “It seems the oil companies have got away with everything but the workforce gets hammered… The way the industry is treating their workers, especially those in a situation similar to mine is an absolute disgrace and should not be allowed to happen.”
Another, when asked what provisions should be made to ensure workers’ futures, said: “Offer training to allow skills to be transferred from oil and gas to renewables sectors. Invest heavily in renewables. Encourage children, students, graduates away from an unsustainable oil and gas sector and into renewables. As Scotland has huge wind/wave/hydro resources she must become a front runner in the global renewables sector.”
Only 9% of workers had ever heard the term “just transition”, despite the Scottish government having established a “Just Transition Commission” in 2019. Platform said the Commission “has prioritised private businesses, industry representatives and regional enterprises. Meanwhile the sector deal being drawn up by UK energy ministers has no vehicle for consulting oil and gas workers.”
The RMT union, whose Oil Industry Liaison Committee (OILC) branch organises offshore energy workers, participated in the survey. Over half the workers responding were RMT members, and the union hailed the survey’s publication in a national press release and circular to members. The union said: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition. Yet the testimony of RMT members and their colleagues lays bare the fact that chronic job insecurity in offshore oil and gas is not being alleviated by clear pathways to employment in growth areas like decommissioning, renewables and decarbonisation, despite this being central to a Just Transition.”
A number of RMT activists, including supporters of Workers’ Liberty, have raised the issue of climate policy inside the union over a number of years. The OILC branch itself has had a pro-transition policy for some time, but at the union’s 2019 AGM, general secretary Mick Cash opposed a motion on climate change on the basis that proposing an end to fossil fuel extraction would mean RMT members in the sector would lose their jobs – despite the motion explicitly advocating a worker-led transition that protected terms and conditions. This is the same sectional logic Unite and GMB officials use to lobby for airport expansion or fracking.
The new report, and RMT’s participation in and response to it, move away from that short-termist, sectional perspective towards one that acknowledges the necessity of decarbonisation but centres workers’ own agency in the transition process.