Scotland's oil workers need a plan for a 'just transition' to other jobs– Dr Richard Dixon

In last week’s column I mentioned the opinion survey of oil and gas workers we published with Greenpeace and Platform. It is worth looking at the results in some more depth.
Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth in 2016 after price falls saw workers lose their jobs as production slowed (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth in 2016 after price falls saw workers lose their jobs as production slowed (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)
Oil rigs in the Cromarty Firth in 2016 after price falls saw workers lose their jobs as production slowed (Picture: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

We advertised the survey in various places including social media and through union channels. In the end, 1,383 oil and gas production workers responded. We also spent many hours on phone interviews with a selection of them to help better understand the responses. There are a number of case studies from individuals in the report, many of whom have worked in the industry for decades, and they make for gloomy reading.

We found a picture of low morale, mass redundancies and little faith in the companies that make up the industry. Of the people who responded, 43 per cent had been furloughed or made redundant since March and 81 per cent would consider leaving the oil and gas industry to work in another sector if they had the chance.

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Only a meagre seven per cent like oil and gas work so much they definitely wanted to stay in the sector. And if offered the option of retraining within the energy sector, more than half would be interested in jobs in renewable energy.

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Majority of Scots feel that climate change is an ‘urgent’ fear

To tackle climate change emissions we urgently need to transition out of fossil fuels and into energy efficiency and renewable energy. The energy transition is probably the most important action we can take to tackle climate change, as it reduces emissions directly by cutting fossil fuels and creates the renewable energy which will replace them in heating, transport and industry.

There are many transferable skills between the oil and gas industry and the wider energy industry, so there are already very many people in Scotland with vital skills and experience who could be the pioneers of that transition, if only the government would act to get it underway in earnest.

The Scottish Government’s Just Transition Commission is looking at how Scotland’s economy moves from high-carbon to low-carbon. It has been charged with looking at transition in every sector, but this dilutes its focus. Since nearly 90 per cent of climate change comes from fossil fuel emissions it would be better if it just concentrated on the big issue of how we manage a just transition for the fossil fuel industry.

It is also hampered by having at least three carbon-capture-and-storage enthusiasts as commissioners. If you think this technology is going to get the oil industry out of jail free, you can’t be serious about making a real transition.

The commission has had sessions with the oil industry. It has had some input from the trades unions. But our survey found that 91 per cent of respondents, while worried about their future, have never heard of the term “just transition”. Clearly the commission, the Scottish Government and the industry are failing to reach the audiences they need to.

The longer we discuss but don’t act, the more disheartened and worried workers and communities will become. The commission’s report is due in the spring and the Scottish Government must build on its recommendations to engage with the workforce and urgently deliver the just transition that workers, communities and the climate need. The alternative is drawn-out decline and collapse.

Dr Richard Dixon is director of Friends of the Earth Scotland

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