Offshore workers forced to strike for better conditions prove that greedy bosses need to go

Offshore oil rig in the North Sea, where workers are preparing to take strike action. Fossil fuels
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Unite offshore oil and gas workers will begin two days of strikes on Monday 24 April. Unite the Union has said that 1,350 workers taking action will bring multiple fossil fuel installations in the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) to a “standstill”. It noted that the workers’ demands demonstrate precisely why greedy capitalists will never stand at the helm of a just transition to a climate neutral future.

Offshore workers striking against corporate greed

Workers from offshore rigs operated by fossil fuel majors will strike to demand better pay and conditions. BP, Shell, Total, Ithaca, CNRI, EnQuest, and Harbour Energy operate the installations where workers plan to take industrial action.

In 2020, Greenpeace, Platform London and Friends of the Earth Scotland conducted a survey of UK offshore workers in the oil and gas industry. They found that just 11% of the workers they surveyed were “very happy” with their terms of pay. Meanwhile, this fell to 6% for satisfaction over workload and hours.

Furthermore, general secretary of Unite Sharon Graham highlighted that while offshore workers fight for fairer pay and work terms, fossil fuel companies are rolling in record windfall profits:

So, while a coalition of technicians, crew, scaffolders and other skilled rig workers prepare to strike for pay increases and job conditions, the big oil operators have been raking in billions. For example, in February BP announced record $28bn profits for 2022. Naturally, the corporation increased its dividend payments to match the soaring gains.

Meanwhile, Unite has also balloted around 80 workers from Wood Group. However, workers have yet to confirm dates for strike action. The Wood Group is owned by North Sea oil and gas tycoon Ian Wood. It was Wood who the government commissioned to produce a report into the extraction of oil and gas. Wood chose to advise that such extraction become a statutory duty, in effect encouraging exploiting oil and gas in the UKCS. Of course, the Tories did just that. In 2015 they passed the Infrastructure Act which carried the clause legislating that the government must maximise “the economic recovery of petroleum”.

Investing in a just transition?

So, what about a just transition to a climate-neutral world? The Aberdeen & Aberdeenshire Scottish Green Party group argued that fossil fuel companies should be doing things differently:

Nonprofit Platform voiced its solidarity with the offshore strikers:

Platform was among a coalition of climate campaign and trade union groups, including Unite, who launched a report in March. In it, workers detailed a “vision” for a just transition to climate neutral in the industry. You can read the Canary’s coverage of the report here.

Maximising profits while putting workers at risk

As Unite announced the strikes, Violation Tracker also highlighted that TotalEnergies has a poor health and safety record for workers in the UK:

Echoing this, a 2022 study found that offshore oil workers have one of the most dangerous jobs in the UK. In addition, the job also carries one of the highest rates of injury. HSE offshore statistics for 2021 showed that offshore operators had caused 198 ‘dangerous occurrences’. It defines these as:

incidents with a high potential to cause death or serious injury, but which happen relatively infrequently.

Among those taking industrial action, construction workers at Stork are striking for an end to the hated three on, three off work rota. On these shift patterns, workers spend three weeks offshore. In 2018, Shell committed to stop these long rotas at sea. The company cited that the change was to ensure the wellbeing and safety of its workers. However, not all offshore operators have followed suit.

Workers across the public and private sectors continue to strike against the greed of capitalist executives. Meanwhile, industry heads profiteer at the expense of workers and the planet. However, as yet more striking workers show, dismantling the capitalist and corporate structures which enable it is crucial. These latest offshore workers’ strikes highlight that a just transition for the climate must put power in the hands of the workforce. In other words, big corporate bosses have got to go.

Feature image via Wikimedia, cropped and resized to 770 by 403, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5

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