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Workers’ grief turned to anger in struggle for offshore safety

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Issue 2360
First issue of the Oilc workers newspaper

First issue of the Oilc workers’ newspaper

Workers formed the Oilc union in 1988 in the aftermath of Piper Alpha. The battle to build effective offshore union organisation can be a matter of life and death. 

According to Jake Molloy of Oilc, “I was working on the Brent Delta platform on the night of 6 July.

“I’d gone there in November 1986 after a disaster claimed the lives of 45 workers. I think the lads onboard Delta were only just about over that when Piper happened.

“Piper was synonymous with accidents,” recalls Jake. “People would say, ‘Piper? Oh, you don’t want to go there. That place is ready to go.’

“There was a gas blast on the Brent Alpha and pictures were circulated around. A few months later the Ocean Odyssey had a blowout killing the radio operator. 

“Grief was turning to anger as workers started to question the whole safety regime of the industry. By the time a massive blast ripped through the gas compression module on Brent Delta on January 1st 1989, the ‘battle lines’ were being drawn up.”

Mikey Craig was a founder of Oilc. “There was a safety committee on Piper Alpha when it exploded—but a committee in name only,” he said. “It was exclusively oil company staff, but the bulk of the workers were contractors’ employees and unrepresented. 

“Without training, and in the absence of effective regulations to protect and empower them, and without an effective enforcement agency in place at the time, the committee was ineffective. Many reps resigned in protest.

“Despite serious concerns from workers about safety on Piper Alpha no effective mechanism existed for the workforce to address the issues that eventually caused the disaster.

“This, combined with the corporate greed of a company that paid only lip service to safety, made catastrophe certain. I firmly believe that if Piper Alpha had an active and functioning safety committee then the disaster may have been averted.”

Oilc is now part of the RMT union 
The latest edition of Blowout which includes longer versions of the abovve accounts from Jake Molloy, Mikey Craig and others is available here

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