Terry Brotherstone (chair)

Introduces session by

  • recalling Piper Alpha
  • alluding to comments made by union (RMT) delegate in Environment session yesterday evening: yes environment is important but so are “people and jobs”
  • holding up event as unusual example of broad-ranging debate, which should be more common at universities


  • Jake Molloy, RMT Regional Coordinator
  • Valerie Lockhart, who has a trade union background and now moved into HR

Audio recording of Molloy and Lockhart papers and discussion

Jake Molloy

RMT union Regional Organiser

Explains these are personal issues and not reflecting his union.

Union is about improving performance, including performativity and safety, but there’s a need for meaningful engagement with workers.

Response to conference questions

Could and should workforce have more of a voice in decisions affecting industry?

  • Yes.

Are unions sufficient vehicle in this regard?

  • Not as currently function. Almost 30,000 offshore workers, of whom 75% are supposedly covered by trade union agreements, but none have been allowed to decide if represented by union and which union. For him this is denial of basic human rights. These agreements were put into place by companies with sole purpose of excluding workers from union representation. This affects all of other questions posed in this session. Allow employers to effectively apply discriminatory practices in every aspect of employment, from pay and pensions to redundancy relations.

How committed are companies and/or workforce to prioritising health and safety?

  • Some are more committed than others and yes there is a need for change. With meaningful relations, workers could play much more positive role in prioritising health and safety, and better understanding process of risk assessments. Who better to do this than risk takers?

With what concerns could health & safety be legitimately balanced?

  • One other concern is industrial relations.

Does the workforce accept risks as the price of employment, and is that reasonable?

  • Workforce does accept risk and is reasonable if properly managed.

Is there need for change in post-Piper Alpha framework?

  • Yes, specifically around workforce engagement.

What is and should be done to address the skills shortage in the industry?

  • With meaningful engagement, workers could do more to draw people into industry.

When oil and gas reserves run low, should government offer tax breaks to keep the companies here?

  • Already being offered tax breaks.

Should they also relax labour and/or environmental laws including those on decommissioning?

  • On decommissioning, watch this space.

Is sufficient provision being made for redeployment of redundant workers at all levels?

  • No.


  • Firmly believes we could improve environmental and health & safety, and that would not require  wholesale change – just proper implementation and review
  • Hasn’t heard any party in Scottish Independence debate even touch on the issues that addressed. Not clear that Scottish Independence will assist us in doing it.

Valerie Lockhart

Senior Human Resources Adviser, EnQuest

Explains these are her personal views and not reflecting her company’s.

In sum: Some things that they are doing may have to change, but the way that doing them shouldn’t have to.

She has optimism in industry, which is developing projects well into the future.

Much of struggle is to refurbish oil fields as well as developing fields that have been known about for long time but only recently possibility to exploit.

New Oil & Gas Industry Council is to oversee new UK government’s Strategic Plan which has  large section on ‘people’ – even though not much new in it, it does bring together discussions that have been having, for example in excellent Skills Forum of Oil & Gas UK

  • what she finds new is focus on collaboration: mainly government and industry though also reference to intra-industry communication

Good news is that

  • increase in workforce, including more core workforce (as opposed to ad hoc workers) going offshore
  • actually little difficulty in attracting quality young people


  • 81% most companies expected to grow in next 5 years, which requires greater increase in workforce than at present, especially in certain geosciences
  • industry is missing people across board in mid career range, 35-48
    • appears that leaving for other sectors, though little research into why
    • also women leaving workforce in mid career

Need for

  • long term investment
  • conversion programmes
  • international talent

With regard to mid career skills shortage, address in various ways that include offering more than generous maternity leave  – need  suitable conditions for women to come back to work (which Enquest is pursuing)

On 2014, Jake was a bit cynical about what Independence could offer, but

  • there may well be real change in fiscal regime and workforce policies
  • whatever outcome, likely to bring greater devolution, which will mean greater proportional influence of industry in Scotland


Jonathan Wills: has covered many accidents as Shetland journalist

  • find depressing that so often same old causes for accidents
  • crucially, need for rights that protect guarantees of industry whistleblowers, who currently face dismissal and loss of pensions
  • agrees less about new regulations than about proper implementation of existing regulations

Andrew Cumbers: any space now in era of skills shortage to push for more genuine employee representation within industry?

> VL

  • has tried to introduce representative committees in smaller organisations where desperate to get participation going, but often finds that workers not very interested
  • often less about structures than about will of management and workforce to ensure participation

> JM:

  • ‘collaboration’ can take many different forms, e.g. many workers now on standby because company wants to use them further down the line – why can’t collaboration be extended to use workforce engagement to redeploy workers on other projects?
  • currently, national union officers regularly fly up from London to sign agreements that largely meaningless to oil workers
  • we have best practice in some areas, but often resistance from both companies and the unions

Jim Noble, Aberdeen City Councillor: Jake argues that better engagement would lead to better environmental performance, but how?

> JM: drilling workers killed in Macondo must have known with experience that on brink of major disaster, and yet weren’t able to shut the well down – BP chief said how difficult it was to say no to clients > how much more difficult for workers!

> VL in fact, engaged workforce – local collaboration – improves not just environmental performance but performance generally

David Robertson: sceptical about oil companies approach to safety – workers have to pay to do health & safety courses (and sometimes spend on training for jobs that don’t exist)

> JM agrees

> VL believes that, for example, conversion programme will bring in people with skills to improve health & safety

Adam Boggin, medical student: ideally people wouldn’t have to pay for courses, but having to pay tuition fees does push people to think about what committing to

George Frynas, U Middlesex (speaking Thurs afternoon): asks about progress post-Macondo

> JM

  • lists number of areas in which improvements needed, including hydrogen release warning system – which currently is “utterly ambiguous” piece of legislation
  • if don’t have robust regulator, performance indicators will not be met

Owen Logan, conference co-organiser:

  • asks about link between health & safety of workers and health & safety of human beings, i.e. broader environmental question of climate change etc.
  • Malcolm Webb claimed that has collaborated with Jake Molloy – is this true?

> JM

  • believes there are good examples of industry producing oil more cleanly
  • has collaborated with Malcolm Webb in drawing up guidance document, which has reduced incidence of sacking of employees for whistleblowing – but companies still don’t take individuals back that don’t want

John McNeish, conference co-organiser

  • asks both speakers to look beyond employer-worker relations to wider issues flagged by conference: last night hearing that need for dramatic change in ‘energy matrix’ of UK, for both climate and economic reasons
  • for example, instead of just focusing on ‘skills shortage’ we need to rethink what involved in being ‘energy worker’ within broader discussion of UK ‘energy matrix’

> JM agrees that would like to look at broader energy picture, but reluctance on part of government, industry and unions to do this

??: In relation to question by David Robertson (above) coal industry has seen similar shift from nationalised coal industry with health & safety regulations built into it, to privatised industry in which workers have to pay for own health & safety training

> VL

  • does not recognize picture as being as bad as Jake paints it, because coming from different perspective – also thinks better in UK than in many other parts of the world
  • thinks industry does have long-term prospects, quoting Financial Times article last week “Stone Age didn’t come to an end because of a lack of stones” > ingenuity is what will take us forward

Audio recording of Ryggvik and Pirani papers and discussion

Helge Ryggvik

Researcher, Centre for Technology, Innovation and Culture, U Oslo

Yesterday Malcolm Webb said that industry intends to engage “workers and unions” whereas in Norway would only say “unions” because assumed that workers are represented in unions (and relatively few non-unionised workers)

  • health & safety record in Norway is better than in UK – some workers say that feels completely different work environment when move from Norwegian to UK platform, though
    • recent improvements in UK
    • both much better than Gulf of Mexico

This is question of history – and especially history of unions

  • between 1966-78, although belief in Norway that industry was in better hands than UK and US, in fact health & safety record was not better at all
  • improves after 1978 because unions fight to ensure government applies health & safety law to offshore work, where it was not being applied on account of oil company pressure on government
  • since then health & safety record owes to union…
    • pushing for design of platforms that adapt to workers’ patterns rather than trying to design workers to adapt to platforms
    • shop stewards with real power in platform: can stop work without repercussions

But recently, companies like Statoil adopting new ‘international’ management styles that tend to sideline unions, which need to struggle to maintain position

Simon Pirani

Senior Research Fellow, Oxford Institute of Energy Studies

Powerpoint slides


Oil boom in Kazakhstan of 2000s: government trying to manage, while moving out of Russian sphere of influence, including in electricity

Real fights are over how oil wealth to be divided

  • with international companies (Kazakhstan was more welcoming than Russia) including Chinese – government trying to renegotiate with companies
  • as well as among Kazakh population, where stark contrast between those with oil wealth and extraordinary poverty in region from which most oil being extracted
    • hierarchy in pay from
      • foreign workers
      • Kazakh workers
      • down to everyone else

Trade unions play key role

  • long tradition, as in other post-Soviet countries,  of ‘official’ trade unions that effectively acted as part of management
  • efforts to break out of those structures, forming genuine trade unions

2011 oil field strike, longest strike in post-Soviet labour history, accompanied by brutal persecution

  • attack with ironbars by followers of ‘official’ union leaders who had been voted out in free elections
  • Zhanazoen massacre at which 16+ killed with no warnings: shown in YouTube clip
  • Kazakh President claiming that subordinates had gone over top, blaming low-level police, but clear targeting of union leaders, and also evidence of widespread use of torture

‘Resource course’ suggests that oil in developing countries tends to bring evils due to elite getting fingers into oil pie

  • oil strike shows peaceful union movement trying to address inequality, which is one key aspect of ‘resource curse’
  • their efforts met by brutal government response, which is part of broader strategy targeting opposition to regime
  • UK continues to give political support to Kazakhstan – all Caspian regimes are seen as preferable to Russia


As usual, apologies to those whose questions I missed (sometimes because I was uploading files!)

?? Question about solidarity of European oil unions with unions in other countries

> JM

  • OILC and RMT pass resolution after resolution on Kazakhstan and other countries but very difficult to make progress
  • fact that Tony Blair is in Kazakhstan in consulting capacity is clear indication of government stance on country

> HR

  • often very difficult to identify real (independent) unionism in other countries, since foreign governments often quick to claim ‘workers’ rights’ while at same time easier for them to pay off leaders
  • later mentions current situation in Iraq, where leader who has struggled to develop independent union has been imprisoned

Owen Logan: restates John Macneish’s comment about the need for oilworkers unions to think more broadly about energy questions, beyond oil production, as well as about representing more broadly working class

?? (shop steward)

  • JM said that little will among workforce to change things: why not?
  • to HR, why is whistleblowing in Norway not castigated in way that it is in UK?

> HR

  • this is changing because Statoil is effectively private company – government retains 70% stake mainly just to prevent Statoil moving to London, but has said will not interfere in company, which is trying to behave like international oil companies, especially BP with which working for many years

Anna Zalik: UK government signed up to Extractive Industries Transparency agreement for transparency, including hydrogen release readings on platforms – how well being implemented in this and other countries?

> HR in Norway is possible to see on website e.g. viewing what platforms in operation, as well as details of any accidents

Adam Boggin, medical student: why have we not heard more about Kazakh massacre (given that high-profile oil country and UK directly involved there)?

> SP: interesting to contrast press coverage of

  • Pussy Riot – who photogenic, based in Moscow where foreign correspondents
  • Kazakh massacre – foreign correspondents reluctant to go, viewed as country in which UK has interest, etc.

Michael Heaney, consultant in oil & gas industry

  • oil companies have 100s of opportunities around the world, and North Sea competing among those: we do this through focus on performance, etc. as well as collaboration between workforce and management ,and accept additional cost in terms of health & safety
  • therefore, it is depressing that we are still envisioning industry after 40 years as ‘us’ versus ‘them’, and that those who collaborate with management e.g. in Kazakhstan are being decried by speakers as ‘collaborationists’

> VL argues that there is often confrontation but also those of us who belief in collaborationism

> JM

  • competing for investment, yes, but should be competing for ethical investment – investment houses should be pressured to invest in countries where ethical treatment of workers (as opposed to Angola, Kazakhstan, and many others)
  • there are also good examples, and profitable industry keeps our members in employment

> HR

  • very competitive industry, but also characterised by strong divide between operators and contractors – in time of lower oil prices, operators push down costs by putting pressure on contractors: not matter of bad people but of economic pressure; however, this can be changed because all ultimately humans and can decide to change structures
  • key is having democratically elected representatives who cannot easily be removed, and therefore are both able and willing to change things – and this also makes unions more interesting to younger people, when see that union reps do have power

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