The offshore unions – what is to be done

James Tiberius Furie on the Facebook page “The OCG is for me! (Unofficial page)” raises the issue that needs to be confronted if there is going to be any (half human) future for UK offshore workers.

He says;

“A lot of offshore workers avoid joining a union then complain it doesn’t represent them and won’t join because of that or look for various other excuses too, Just one of many Poor ways of justifying why we Are in the mass we Are to themselves , join and get those around you to join then ensure your voices are heard. Employers get their own way because you don’t stand up to them.”

Imagine what an active union membership could do to employers and Unions alike if they would Just join”.

Point taken James!

No doubt loads of guys who are not in a union are making excuses to justify why they’re not.  But can you honestly urge these guys to join an offshore union?  And which one would we tell them to join?   I certainly couldn’t, and I spent 5 years as OILC Branch Secretary of RMT urging workers to join a union, to the exclusion of most nearly everything else in my life. More fool me!  And remember OILC are not contaminated by association with this OCA shite. I’m not telling any member to leave his/her union, maybe with a lifetime of dedicated intervention they might turn it round into something useful.

What would all these guys stand to gain from joining a union in the very unlikely event that they all do?  What would the unions “negotiate” for them?  Two on three off?   A wage rise?  And what would they have to do to get this?  And what price would they have to pay?  Their job?  Or would the unions protect them and stop the employers digging out the very best like they did even after the magnificent strikes in ’89 and ’90? 

The one thing that the guys on our Facebook page say, loud and clear, is that the OCA unions are “at it”.  They signed sweetheart deals that denied offshore workers their human right to choose which union should represent them.  And if that’s not enough they’ve been fucking useless and everyone including their own offshore members know it. If an official has turned up and argued your case for you when the company has been trying to screw you, you’ve had the very best the unions have to offer.  And it’s not enough.  Are the unions going to lead a strike for anything?  And then protect their members who get dug out?

The offshore unions have not solved one single problem faced by the offshore workers in a history that goes back nearly half a century.  In fact they’re part of the problem.  And maybe you can say that the reason the unions are useless is because the guys don’t have “a spine” but it’s a lot more complicated than that.

There’s only one culture offshore.  And that’s the culture of greed and bullying and arse licking and it has seeped down from the very top.  From big oil.  There are individuals who stand out against it.  Most of them on “The OCG is for me (Unofficial page)” I’d bet.  But if there was going to be an alternative culture (like there is offshore Norway) the unions would have had to have shown willing to fight right from the start.  And they didn’t.  From the very earliest days, in the heyday of the unions, the bureaucrats took the easy route of doing deals and making sure there was an “appearance” of a trade union so they could keep their positions – and no doubt their sandwiches and beer.  And let’s be honest.  The employers were “clever”.  They paid above the going rate.  Not rocket science!  But effective!

And that “culture” has contaminated a lot of guys.  How else could it have been?  If you don’t think you’re part of a union movement that has an alternative vision for the North Sea, and that can protect itself and its members, you do what’s necessary to keep the wages coming in and feed the family.  And the rest you rationalise away.  And eventually you’re sucked in.  And to preserve your self respect you begin to actually believe the shit that you’re forced to say you believe in, in front of bullying management who sit at your table in the mess room and pretend they’re workers too. 

So is that it? Are we fucked before we start?  I don’t think so!  But if there is going to be any challenge to the prevailing culture in an  industry that is hounding the workers in a race to the bottom, it won’t come from the OCA signatory unions.  And given that the RMT collaborate with UNITE and GMB in the OCG, and don’t seem to have had much civilising effect on them, it doesn’t look as though it’ll come from them either.  If change comes from anywhere it’ll come from the guys on the OCG is for Me (Unofficial page), and despite the unions.

But there is another “elephant” in this particular room.  And it is of a completely different quality to the “terms and conditions” and “travel payments” and even “3 and 3 schedules” or whatever.  Because none of these things is likely to mobilise a workforce that has been forced to eat shit for years.   But there is one issue which just has to.

And this is why this website exists at all. And its not a choice but an existential necessity. If we don’t deal with it some of us might just cease to “exist”.

The Elgin blowout demonstrates to anyone who wants to open their eyes and look at it, that in our industry it is perfectly possible that any North Sea worker could be blown to kingdom come in an instant.  And it’s not only the facts of the gigantic incompetent fuck up that led to the Elgin blowout endangering the lives of the 238 guys who were on the complex in 2012.   It’s also the disinformation from Total, a refusal by HSE to nail Total’s disinformation, and the failure of the industry in general, including the HSE, to LEARN ANY LESSONS from Elgin, that sets us up for another Piper Alpha sized disaster. 

We all need to know, if we don’t already, that if the lessons aren’t learnt from Elgin then we’ll have a repeat.  Not an exact repeat of course.  But the same arrogance and incompetence will be allowed to thrive because no one believes they will have to account for what they do.  No one has the slightest concern that they might have their collar felt if they are lazy and incompetent and arrogant.  And as sure as night follows day other emergencies will arise and will also be completely mismanaged.  And one day the wind will be blowing in the other direction.

This is the issue that not only can, but must mobilise the entire offshore workforce.  Even the most downtrodden, shit eating, time serving victim of our industry’s bullying and arse licking culture has a family at home who wouldn’t let him just put up with the shit for an easy life, if they thought that one of these trips he was going to go offshore and never come back.

It was this understanding that allowed the men to take the incredible action they did in the strikes in ’89 and ’90 in the wake of the 167 deaths on Piper Alpha.  And it was the betrayal of the men by the offshore unions that have made the unions unfit to ever command the loyalty of the majority of the offshore workforce (whether the unions or even the workforce know it or not). 

I don’t think that there is NOT a role for trade union members to be active in their union and keep the pressure on the bureaucrats and expose them for what they are and let the rest of us know what they’re up to.  And best of luck!  But there is a far more pressing job to be done.   We need to challenge the offshore safety regime.  We all know anyway that it’s a farce designed to discipline workers, not protect them.

Start by asking your OIM/Toolpusher/Company man, what the lessons of the Elgin Blowout are and how these lessons have been applied on your platform.  I’ll think of some more specific questions you can ask if you’re up for it. Come on here and tell everyone what they say in reply.  And if they don’t give you an answer that reassures you.  You, and the guys who would like to keep their heads below the parapet, are going to have to make some decisions.

And s

And while you’re at it, you guys who work for, or under, Wood Group might like to ask them for the details of what happened on Black Elk’s West Delta platform in the Gulf of Mexico.  Have a look at this article from Energy Voice. 

the blaze on Black Elk’s West Delta platform

via Energy Voice | UPDATED: Wood Group PSN to pay $9.5million over Gulf of Mexico incidents – News for the Oil and Gas Sector

I’ll see if I can get some clarification about how culpable  Wood Group were for the deaths and injuries as well as the spill (it’s not clear to me from the article), and post it on here. 

Do you think Wood Group can convince you that, 

“safety and assurance is always the firm’s highest priority and that steps had been taken to avoid repeat incidents”? 

Because that’s what I think these lazy bastards say when they can’t even be bothered to make up a new lie.

Keep coming back on here and taking a look to see if I’ve managed to get more stuff about the Elgin near catastrophe up on the site.  Have a look at the HSE report of their investigation into Elgin and the transcript of Total’s trial before the Sheriff in Aberdeen. 

Have your say on anything that you do, or don’t, agree with. If you’ve questions I’ll do my best to answer them.

Author: Neil Rothnie

I'm a retired (2016) mud engineer. I worked offshore pretty much my whole working life - half on the UK - half on the Norwegian side. I was on the Rowan Norway on Ekofisk when Total were using her sister rig Rowan Viking to try and kill the G4 well on the Elgin Wellhead Platform, lost control and allowed it to blow out.

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