U.K. Offshore wind energy investment promises jobs, but the example of Scottish workers leads unions to protest

offshore wind Beothuk Installation Newfoundland.jpgOn March 7,  the government of the United Kingdom announced a new Offshore Wind Sector Deal  which aspires to provide 30% of the U.K.’s electricity by 2030 and, according to the article in The Guardian, also promises that  jobs in offshore wind will triple to 27,000 by 2030.  The detailed  government press release  further states that the deal will increase the number of women in the industry, continue efforts by educational institutions to develop a sector-wide curriculum to facilitate skills transfer, prompt new targets for apprenticeships, and create an “Offshore Energy Passport”, recognised outside of the UK, so that workers will be able “to work seamlessly across different offshore sectors.” Unite the union reacted with this statement , which included a warning that the Energy Passport “should not  be used to attack workers’ terms and conditions of employment, nor compromise health and safety regulations.”

In the same statement, Unite also called for a ‘level playing field’ for Scotland so that it can secure large-scale manufacturing contracts for its own offshore renewables sector. The  concern follows the award of  £2.8 billion in contracts for turbine manufacture to companies in Spain, Belgium and the United Arab Emirates, rather than to the BiFab yards in Fife, Scotland. As reported in “Union fury as £2.8 billion wind turbine contract goes overseas”  in the Greener Jobs Alliance newsletter (March/April), the GMB and Unite unions are calling on the Scotland’s Prime Minister and the Scottish Parliament to intervene, stating: “The Scottish Government and the public have a stake in BiFab and with it our renewables manufacturing future. We owe it to our communities to tackle the spaghetti bowl of vested interest groups that’s dominating our renewables sector and to fight for Scotland’s share’.

 

Updated: What are the prospects for a Just Transition in U.K. communities?

desmog_uk_blue_logoOn October 30, DeSmog UK  began a new series of reporting titled  Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice , which it describes as “a comprehensive exploration of the UK‘s prospects for a just transition towards a sustainable future and environmental justice.”  The first installment, Part One: Kingdom of Coal  profiles Fife, Scotland: the history of its coal mine closures around 2002, and the transition to its current situation as the site of a gas extraction facility run by Shell and an ethylene production plant operated by ExxonMobil. The report states that the Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (SEPA) has issued fines and final warning letters to both Shell and Exxon for the flaring conducted at the two sites; a SEPA investigation into the flaring is underway, with a report scheduled for November 2018.  Finally, Kingdom of Coal discusses the  prospects for a just transition for Fife to a renewable energy industry,  in the  context of the Just Transition principles proposed by the Friends of the Earth Scotland. The impending Brexit  threatens funding from the European Investment Bank (which was used to build  the Beatrice Wind Farm in the Moray Firth), and “wider economic insecurity makes longer-term investments, such as hiring more apprentices, growing the workforce and investing in new machines and premises, increasingly challenging.”

Update: Part 2 of the series, City of Oil  appeared on November 7 and profiles Aberdeen Scotland.  Employment there centres on the harbour and the specialist tasks associated with the North Sea offshore oil and gas industry  – decommissioning oil platforms at the end of their life, laying sub-sea cables, servicing and maintaining offshore drilling platforms – and representing the new economy, the offshore wind turbines of  the Vattenfall installation.  Through interviews, the report describes the workplace issues of the workers on ships under flags of convenience in the North Sea , changes to shift schedules for oil rig workers, and  a growing problem of poverty.

Just Transition, from Fossil Fuels to Environmental Justice is described by DeSmog UK as : “This powerful new series starts from the basis of understanding that current lifestyles are dependent on oil and plastic, and that we are all to some degree complicit and integrated into the present system. It looks at how the UK can achieve the immediate, transformative and radical changes to the economy and society necessary to address the climate crisis. And it addresses this transformation through the perspectives of the communities that will be most affected.”