Workers in the UK’s offshore oil, gas and renewables sector have called for public ownership of energy companies to ensure that the country’s transition to net zero protects jobs, communities and the environment.
The call comes amid a series of demands to government from a coalition of offshore workers, unions and climate campaigners that aim to shift the industry from fossil fuels to low-carbon energy sources.
A survey of 1,092 offshore workers for the wide-ranging report, Our Power: Offshore Workers, found that 90% of respondents backed its demands, which also include: government-backed jobs guarantees; an offshore training passport that supports workers to retrain in the renewables sector; a commitment to incentivise investment in ports and factories making products such as wind turbines; and equal pay for migrant workers.
Concerns are growing over the pace of Britain’s transition away from fossil fuels and its ability to create green jobs in manufacturing, production and operations. Data from the consultancy PwC shows the number of jobs being created in the renewable energy industry is growing four times faster than the overall UK employment market. But more than one-third of these roles are based in London and the south-east, particularly in professional and scientific roles.
The report argues that public ownership of energy firms would help to ensure a “just energy transition” offering greater job security and conditions. It paints a picture of long stints at sea and low pay in the face of the cost of living crisis, with British workers paid three times as much as migrant staff.
The Labour leader, Keir Starmer, has said that, if his party gains power, it will create a publicly owned energy company called Great British Energy to invest in clean UK power. Labour is yet to flesh out details of the plan.
Julie*, who handles transport and accommodation for workers heading into the North Sea off Aberdeen, said: “Public ownership would mean decent contracts, permanent work, and that workers would be treated with respect. It’s less of a danger to our working environment than having someone who is cowed, stressed or worried about their livelihoods.”
In January, Chris Skidmore, head of the government’s net zero review, said the government should consider replacing the windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas with a net-zero fund that ringfences the proceeds for investment in offshore wind and other low-CO2 projects.
The workers’ demands have been backed by the unions RMT, Unite Scotland and Unison Scotland and climate groups Platform, Uplift and Friends of the Earth Scotland. They also call for a windfall tax to be made permanent; strengthened grievance processes; and a sovereign wealth fund.
Friends of the Earth Scotland’s head of campaigns, Mary Church, said: “Failure from politicians to properly plan and support the transition to renewables is leaving workers totally adrift on the whims of oil and gas companies, and the planet to burn.”
The National Audit Office, the government spending watchdog, warned last week that ministers’ efforts to tackle the energy bills crisis have left the UK at risk of missing a target to source all electricity generation from low-carbon sources by 2035.
A UK government spokesperson said: “The government’s plans to help decarbonise the oil and gas sector are entirely just – and we would strongly refute any claim otherwise.
“The North Sea is a key part of increasing our energy security and independence, with our transition deal helping towards a low-carbon future while supporting tens of thousands of jobs.”
* Name changed for anonymity