Survey of oil and gas workers shows little knowledge of energy transition

A report commissioned by international union coalition Industriall examines the geopolitics of fossil fuel producing countries (mainly, the United States, China, Europe and Russia) and the investments and performance of the Oil Majors (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, BP, Total, as well as nationally-owned PetroChina, Gazprom and Equinor).  Energy transition, national strategies, and oil companies: what are the impacts for workers? was published in November 2020, with the research updated to reflect the impacts of Covid-19. 

In addition to a thorough examination of state and corporate actions, the report asked union representatives from four oil companies about how workers understand the energy transformation and its impact on their own jobs, and whether the concept of Just Transition has become part of their union’s agenda.     

Some highlights of the responses:

  • “the union members interviewed showed little knowledge about either the risks that the current transition process can generate for the industrial employee, or about the union discussion that seeks to equate the concern with the decarbonisation of the economy with the notions of equity and social justice. In some cases, even the term “Just Transition” was not known to respondents.”
  • Their lack of knowledge regarding the Just Transition can be justified by the fact that they do not believe that there will be any significant change in the energy mix of these companies.
  • Regarding information about energy transitions within the companies, “Managers are included, but the bottom of the work chain is not”
  • Lacking corporate policies or support, some  employees feel compelled to take responsibility for their own re-training

Echoing results of a similar survey of North Sea oil workers in the summer of 2020, published in Offshore: Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition, one European respondent is quoted saying: “In the end, everyone is looking for job security, good wages and healthy conditions. It doesn’t matter so much if the job is in another area, as long as it is in good working conditions”.

The researchers conclude that: “Far from being just a statement of how disconnected workers are from environmental issues, these researches reveal a window of opportunity for union movements to act in a better communication strategy with their union members, drawing their attention to the climate issue and transforming their hopes for job stability and better working conditions into an ecologically sustainable political agenda.”

The report was commissioned by Industriall and conducted by the Institute of Strategic Studies of Petroleum, Natural Gas and Biofuels (Ineep), a research organization created by Brazil’s United Federation of Oil and Gas Workers (FUP). 

North Sea offshore oil workers rank job security as most important factor in a Just Transition

Three  environmental groups in the U.K. have released a new report on September 29: Offshore:  Oil and gas workers’ views on industry conditions and the energy transition . The report summarizes the views of 1,383 workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry (representing 4.5% of the workforce),  as provided in a survey conducted  in the summer of 2020 by  Friends of the Earth Scotland , Greenpeace UK , and the less well-known, London-based Platform.  In addition to the worker’s responses, the report summarizes the economic and working conditions of North Sea offshore oil and gas workers, includes case studies of the personal experiences of eight workers, and makes recommendations for government action. In the final call to action, the three environmental groups invite energy workers, unions, and others to participate in a planned consultation process across the UK, with workshops where energy workers can draft policy demands for a transition that works for them.

Almost 35% of respondents identified themselves as union members, – the two largest unions being  RMT-OILC (52.5%)  and Unite (36%).  In response to the report, RMT issued this press release, which states: “The skills and expertise of offshore oil and gas workers are key to a Just Transition.… To hear this strong, pro-worker, pro-trade union message from influential environmental groups is a significant moment in the debate which operators, contractors and Governments must listen to and act on. We applaud Platform, FoE Scotland and Greenpeace for taking this initiative and RMT will continue to work with them and like-minded NGOs in the fight for action to protect offshore jobs and skills from an unjust transition.”

Workers reveal an appetite for change, fueled by a desire for more job security

Selected survey results show:

  • 42.8% of oil and gas workers have been made redundant or furloughed since March 2020;
  •  Satisfaction with health and safety standards was most commonly rated 3/5;
  • 81.7% said they would consider moving to a job outside of the oil and gas industry- only 7% said they would not.
  • The most important consideration for those willing to transition outside the oil and gas industry was job security (58%). Second most important, at 21%, was pay level.
  • When asked what part of the energy sector they would be willing to retrain for and move to, 53% chose Offshore wind 53%;  51% Renewables ; 38%  Rig decommissioning ; 26% Carbon capture and storage . 20% would also consider moving outside the energy sector.

Based on these responses, the report makes recommendations for three key areas of action: 1. Consultation with workers:  “a representative section of the workforce should be involved in participatory policy-making, where workers are able to help determine policy, in addition to engagement with trade unions”; 2. Immediate government intervention and regulation to “improve job security and working conditions for workers in the oil and gas sector, to boost morale, improve quality of life, and mitigate the risk of workers leaving the energy sector altogether”; and  3. “Address barriers to entry and conditions within the renewables industry, including creating sufficient job opportunities.”

Platform is a U.K.-based environmental and social justice collective with campaigns focused on the global oil industry, fossil fuel finance and climate justice and energy democracy.  Readers may remember that Platform partnered with Friends of the Earth Scotland and  Oil Change International, to publish  Sea Change: Climate Emergency, Jobs and Managing the Phase-Out of UK Oil and Gas Extraction , released on May 2019 and highlighted by WCR here .

A Workers Plan to Transition to Renewable Energy Jobs, based on workers’ views

A Workers Climate Plan, submitted to the federal government its climate change consultations in September, was more publicly launched on November 1  at a solar panel installation training facility in Edmonton, Alberta.  The report by Iron and Earth  is much more than a publicity stunt: it offers serious policy suggestions, and also “gives voice to the workers” by reporting the results of a survey of opinions of Alberta’s energy sector workers.

The Plan is based on  four months of consultation with workers and stakeholder groups in the West, and on the analysis of the more than one thousand responses to an opinion survey conducted online from June to August 2016. These survey responses challenge the stereotype of the oil sands worker: for example, 59% of energy sector workers are actually willing to take some kind of pay cut to transition to renewable energy; 63 % of respondents  said they could shift to renewable projects “directly with some training” and another 16 % said they could shift without any need for retraining; 69% of energy sector workers agree or strongly agree that Canada should make a 100% transition to renewable energy by 2050; 71% believe climate change is the biggest threat facing the global community.

On the policy side, the Workers’ Climate Plan  focuses on the need for upskilling for the energy sector workforce; more manufacturing capacity for renewable energy in Canada; support for contractors and unions that want to transition to renewables; and the integration of renewable technologies into existing energy projects.  As well, the Plan states: “as  we advocate for a just transition of workers into the renewable energy sector, we must also uphold our obligations to First Nations by aligning our campaigns at Iron & Earth with the calls to action outlined in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.”

The Plan says this about the role of unions:”At Iron & Earth we think it is vital that existing energy sector unions are positioned within Canada’s developing renewable energy sector, and take a leading role in the design and implementation of Canada’s transition to renewable energy. The views of unions and associations such as IBEW, IBB, UA, Unifor, USWA, CLC, CUPE, and CAW, among others, on a wide range of issues, including sector regulations, training and employment legislation, will be key in developing a viable strategy to position existing energy sector workers in renewable energy.”

Iron and Earth  was founded in 2015 as a platform for oil sands workers to engage in renewable energy development issues, especially retraining.  From their website: “Our intention is not to shut down the oilsands, but to see they are managed more sustainably while developing our renewable energy resources more ambitiously. ” The  membership includes  workers from a variety of industrial trades, including boilermakers, electricians, pipe fitters, ironworkers, and labourers, and has spread beyond Alberta to include an East Coast chapter in Newfoundland.