UK unions Unite and RMT, which represent energy workers in the UK, have condemned the three-week-on three-week off shift rota present within the UK Continental Shelf.
“Many workers might say that [three-weeks-on three-weeks-off] doesn’t sound too bad … The reality for oil workers is so different,” Tommy Campbell, Aberdeen-based Unite regional officer, told Rigzone.
Campbell said this “punitive” system puts an “unbelievable strain” on workers and suggested it was a “disaster waiting to happen.”
Steve Todd, RMT’s national secretary for offshore and maritime, echoed Campbell’s sentiment, telling Rigzone that the three-on three-off shift pattern “needs to end.”
“The expediencies preached by the Oil and Gas Authority to maximize the economic recovery of the circa 20 billion barrels of oil and gas reserves under the UK Continental Shelf would not be jeopardized by an end to three-on three-off,” Todd said.
“It would also increase jobs, including for the 10,000+ installation workers who have lost their jobs in the offshore oil and gas industry,” he added.
Both union representatives also drew attention to living conditions on offshore installations in the region, with Unite’s Campbell labelling them as “cramped.”
“Cramped living conditions on the rigs mean that the periods where you are not working are never rest and recreation. Fitful sleep is the norm which piles exhaustion on exhaustion,” Campbell said.
Responding to the unions’ criticisms of the three-on three-off shift pattern, Oil & Gas UK’s workforce engagement and skills manager, Alix Thom, said this type of rota, and other equal time arrangements, have long been a feature of the North Sea industry.
“They are compliant with legislation and regulatory guidance and companies would have carried out extensive safety assessments before deciding on a particular rota,” Thom told Rigzone.
Thom also said cabin occupancy numbers offshore UK are compliant with guidance from Health and Safety Executive, which regulates this aspect of worker welfare in the UK.
“The industry is compliant with this guidance, which specifies that sleeping accommodation must contain sufficient beds; must not be overcrowded; must contain adequate storage space and allow reasonable privacy and comfort,” Thom said.
“Union organization is … the key to the door of fighting for better conditions and a more reasonable work pattern,” Campbell said.
“The prize of better lives can only be achieved through a union organized workforce,” he added.
Increasing the number of offshore workers covered by RMT collective bargaining agreements would help, Todd said, adding RMT would continue working on its long-standing campaigns, one of which includes strengthening the role of workforce elected safety representatives on installations.
The core UK offshore oil and gas industry workforce, comprising those spending more than 100 days offshore per year, decreased from 28,990 to 23,651 from 2014 to 2016, marking a decline of 18 percent, according to Oil & Gas UK’s latest workforce report.
This report, published in October 2017, also highlighted that the central North Sea harbors the largest number of offshore workers within the UK Continental Shelf, coming in at 22,739, and revealed that the average age of UK offshore oil and gas industry staff increased to 42.7 in 2016, compared to 40.7 in 2014.
Around 15 percent of the UK offshore workforce are non-British citizens, with around half of this 15 percent hailing from the European Union, Oil & Gas UK’s report revealed.