Offshore energy – update

Circular No: NP/312/20


Our ref: S1/2 S6/2

22nd December 2020

Dear Colleagues

Offshore energy – update

I am writing to update you on your Union’s work in the offshore wind sector and on a worker-led ‘Just Transition’ for offshore oil and gas members over this past, torrid year.

Offshore Wind

Coronavirus has put more emphasis on the Government’s plans to achieve a net zero carbon economy and the need for a ‘Green Economic Recovery’ to repair jobs, skills and livelihoods. The UK Government’s target to add 30GigaWatts of energy production capacity from offshore wind by 2030 includes 11GW from sites in Scottish waters and 576MegaWatts from RWE’s extension of the Gwynt y Môr off the North Wales coast.

To deliver this increase in renewable energy, £50 billion investment is required and the Government say that 60,000 jobs will be created in offshore wind over this decade – a conservative target in every sense. We have worked with our Parliamentary Groups to highlight this lack of ambition and the need for more jobs in the supply chain, especially for seafarers at the crucial foundation and turbine installation phases.

That work will continue to gather momentum as the National Minimum Wage starts to be properly enforced on ships working on the UKCS. The Union’s renewed demand for cabotage reforms to reserve jobs, port activity and vessel registration in the UK will also give our political work momentum in the New Year.

This year’s work, however, has forced supply chain employment issues onto the political agenda. The Union has met supply chain employers from Saipem to Worley to impress upon them the need for local seafarers and other workers to benefit from offshore wind projects on the UKCS. The Bifab fiasco in Scotland, where a small contract for foundations and jackets for eight turbines as part of EDF and ESB’s development of the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm, also served to demonstrate the current failure of the Crown Estate Scotland licensing and Contracts for Difference auction processes to guarantee local jobs in the supply chain.

The Crown Estate licences activity on the UKCS off the coast of England and Wales and Crown Estate Scotland licences this activity off the coast of Scotland. This covers the offshore wind, subsea cabling and pipeline and the marine aggregates sectors. RMT is pressing for guarantees for local seafarer jobs and ports across the country to be included at the licensing stage for offshore wind developments, as a starting point. This would significantly increase jobs and skills for our members and strengthen the link between offshore renewables and UK employment in the supply chain.

RMT has also taken up the safety failings, welfare problems and lack of awareness which are already apparent to technicians, seafarers and others working on operative wind farms in the UK. The Union has held meetings with G+ the body accredited by the Health and Safety Executive with responsibility for safety standards in the offshore wind farm sector. Very few workers seem to be aware of the existence of G+, let alone how they or safety reps report incidents or interact with G+. We are working hard to correct this.

Similarly, the training standards underpinning the offshore wind sector are set by an international body called the Global Wind Organisation (GWO). Over the year we followed up offshore members’ concern over GWO’s practices and have established dialogue with GWO which has been helpful. Whilst there remain barriers to offshore oil and gas workers re-training to work in offshore wind without incurring costs from duplicating existing skills, we have been able to locate the source of the problem and are working to address this.

We will be organising an online event in the New Year for RMT members to ask questions and raise issues with a panel which will include representatives from GWO, G+ and RenewableUK. A circular will be issued closer to the time with final details.

The Union is also meeting the Energy Minister, Kwasi Kwarteng MP on 1 February to demand that the Government set up a cross industry offshore wind farm forum for trade unions, industry and Government to deliver more jobs and iron out any problems with employment, safety and training standards in the offshore wind sector.

Regular meetings have also been held with RenewableUK the trade association for offshore wind developers, which includes Ørsted, Vattenfall, SSE, EDF and Equinor. A constructive dialogue has been established and we are continuing to put pressure on employers’ to strengthen standards for employment, training and safety.

We are not where we want to be yet in terms of recognition agreements but we are confident that these will come as good industrial relations must accompany the positive environmental impact of clean energy. RMT is the only union working on the shop floor and amongst developers, many of whom are publicly owned utilities in their home states, to drive home this message of local jobs and trade union recognition across the UK offshore wind industry.

Shipping and Offshore Branch delegates to the RMT Offshore Wind Working Party again met twice this year, in July and December. A programme of work has been drafted which will be put in front of the NEC in the New Year. I will keep you further informed of the union’s work to sharpen our strategy for the offshore renewables sector.

Just Transition

Throughout the year, the Union has worked with Parliamentary Groups in Westminster, Holyrood and the Senedd, to promote Just Transition measures to protect the skills and livelihoods of offshore oil and gas workers, seafarers and other workers in the critically important supply chain.

We continue to fight for clear plans to re-train and re-deploy offshore oil and gas workers made redundant in 2020. This is part of the work in offshore wind outlined above but is not restricted to renewables. The growing decommissioning, Carbon Capture and Storage, hydrogen and other low carbon fuels also represent opportunities for offshore workers with transferrable skills, as well as apprentice opportunities for seafarers.

The significance and breadth of workers’ skills in the oil and gas supply chain to the emerging low carbon sector has been recognised in the UK Government’s Energy White Paper and by the independent Committee on Climate Change.

Your Union also sits with oil and gas employers, regulators and Governments on the forum to agree a North Sea Transition Deal. The final version of this will be published in the Spring and we have repeatedly informed ministers of the need to bring this date forward as the number of job losses, particularly in the drilling sector increased over the course of the year.

The Scottish Government’s Strategic Leadership Group also includes RMT. We have used our seat on this to press the case for more support for offshore oil and gas workers, including through clear transition training pathways with offshore wind employers.

Progressive alliances with climate groups who share RMT’s position on a worker-led Just Transition were also established during the course of the year. This is increasing our influence on Just Transition policies, including the Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission which is due to publish its recommendations early next year.

An estimated 12,000 workers across the offshore oil and gas industry lost their jobs in 2020. Just Transition is not just a fashionable buzzword – it is what we need to see for all workers and communities in offshore oil and gas. The multi-national oil majors and their contractors are now talking about transition to renewable energy and we will not let this happen in a way that leaves our members behind. We will enter the New Year with renewed vigour for the fight ahead for all RMT members’ jobs and terms and conditions.

I would be grateful if you would share this update with members in your branch or region and I will keep you informed of all further developments.

Yours sincerely

Mick Cash
General Secretary