Rapidly accelerating climate crisis means the days of an energy system powered by oil and gas should be numbered.
But workers in the industry who are best placed to drive forward renewable energy projects and create green jobs are being ignored.
Offshore, a new report released last week, argues that workers are overwhelmingly interested in developing renewable energy “but their knowledge and expertise is untapped”.
The report by charities Friends of the Earth Scotland, Platform and Greenpeace, interviewed 1,383 offshore workers. It focused on the impact of Covid-19, the collapse of working conditions and their views on a green energy transition.
Many workers have decades of experience, yet there was no attempt to involve them in the energy transition. “Oil and gas workers understand the industry better than any NGO campaigner or government expert,” said the report.
“They understand what the future of renewables can look like, because they know practically what work in construction, operations, electrics, mechanics and engineering involves.
“But most importantly, they should have the right to be involved in the planning of their livelihoods and shaping the future of their communities.”
Some 81 percent of workers said they’d consider leaving the industry and over half said that, with the right training, they’d be interested in renewables.
But workers report paying for expensive training—sometimes costing thousands of pounds—to move to offshore wind. But after paying out, there’s no guarantee of a job at the other end.
Electrical technician Mark is keen to work in offshore wind but can’t find a job. He agreed with over 50 percent of workers who said that government support at all levels was “nowhere near enough”.
“There are a lot of trades that could slot immediately into a wind farm and there are people who are really capable of progressing in wind power,” he said. “The government should offer grants as they do for people coming out of the military.
“Renewables is getting bigger and it’s going to be here to stay.”
A “just transition” means a green industrial transformation with workers and affected communities at its heart. It’s a phrase used by environmental campaigners and NGOs—but some 91 percent of workers said they had never heard of the phrase “just transition”.
It’s one example of the gulf between those campaigning for the planet and those who should be at the centre of the steps necessary to save it.
Billions of pounds needs to be poured into decommissioning rigs, building renewable energy and creating well-paid unionised jobs to do it.
But none of this is happening. Instead, the British government and private firms are ignoring every opportunity to fight the climate crisis and clinging onto a dying industry that is driving us to catastrophe.
More attacks on offshore staff are in the pipeline from bosses
Many offshore oil and gas workers face homelessness, unemployment and poverty due to the coronavirus crisis.
Some 43 percent of the workers surveyed said they had been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020.
Dave, who has worked in the oil and gas industry for
26 years, has been on furlough since April and calls it “the worst time in my life”.
“I’ve been applying everywhere, a lot of internal job applications as well, but I have barely been getting any interviews,” he said.
“I guess my plan B is to move to Asia. I’d mostly go to look for a job in renewables. I’m desperate to get into the industry.”
Analysis by think tank Carbon Tracker showed that slowing demand for fossil fuels during lockdown caused oil and gas prices to crash to record low levels.
This came on top of falling prices and an oversupply of oil in world markets before the pandemic.
Some £67 billion was wiped off the value of oil and gas assets held by the world’s largest oil firms in a nine-month period this year.
Companies have also reduced their predictions for how much they think oil will be worth in the future.
And the crisis is far from over. The Oil and Gas Industry Association said it expects 30,000 direct and indirect jobs to be slashed by the end of this year.
Last week Royal Dutch Shell, Europe’s biggest oil firm, announced it was slashing up to 9,000 jobs.
The firm wants to axe up to 10 percent of its workforce before the end of 2022.
It claims this is because it wants to invest more in low-carbon energy, but really it is a callous cost-cutting measure.
Its cut comes shortly after promising investors it would save £1.9 billion a year as part of a “corporate overhaul”.
A fight is needed
Workers are being made to pay through sustained attacks on their terms and conditions.
Drilling safety adviser Matt said, “The industry has become more and more divided between employed and contracted workers. Many are on zero-hours contracts only, which offer no security or training assistance.”
He said casual work “will allow for companies to get rid of workers whenever they want”.
“They have zero risk, they can take on 150 guys and then get rid of 150 guys six months later,” he explained.
Workers have punishing schedules—the most common rota in Britain is three weeks on the rig, three weeks off.
And many workers surveyed reported that they accepted pay cut after pay cut during the last decade—sometimes of up to 20 percent at a time.
Many union leaders push crude and wrong arguments that claim a move to renewables would threaten jobs, and so oppose a green transition.
Yet they do nothing to fight bosses’ attacks on jobs, pay and conditions.
The fight for decent terms and conditions, proper pay and workers’ organisation has to be at the centre of the energy transition.