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BALPA Offshore in action

by Mick Brade BALPA National Officer

The past year has been a difficult one for our colleagues based in the North Sea. The fall in oil prices saw oil and gas companies make drastic attempts to cut costs, and nearly a quarter of jobs in Bristow, CHC and Bond Helicopters faced redundancy. The way contracts have been awarded for offshore work has meant that, to protect jobs, terms and conditions have come under threat. This can lead to one group of pilots being effectively in competition with another to win contracts and save jobs. The oil and gas industry has ruthlessly exploited this, and continues to do so.
In February we launched the BALPA Offshore campaign to harness the collective voice of all helicopter pilots operating in the UK oil and gas industries and say “enough is enough”.
We are not in denial about the state of the industry. The downturn is real and looks to be set in for the medium term. But history teaches us that what goes round comes round and we remain positive about a future for the North Sea. And there are good reasons to believe so.
The oil and gas companies’ constant squeezing of contract prices is putting safety at risk and undermining the health of an industry that may not be around when they come knocking for extra capacity when things eventually pick up. Pilots who are distracted thinking about the threat to them and their families may not be sleeping, so fatigue is becoming an issue. They are also concerned that being sick will count against them when redundancy selections are made meaning they will operate when not fit.
The oil industry in the latest Budget
The Chancellor of the Exchequer announced some measures in his budget statement ostensibly to help the struggling oil and gas sector. He claims his reforms will provide a £1 billion boost to the industry. The measures include slashing supplementary charges from 20% to 10% and the effectively abolition of the Petroleum Supplementary Tax as well as some other reliefs around decommissioning. All these were fine as far as they went but less than the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) had called for in their submission.
The key questions BALPA raised in our own budget commentary is whether any of this support will trickle down to those at the sharp end whose jobs have been and could be affected by this downturn. We want the Chancellor to use his undoubted influencing skills to call in the major oil and gas companies to his office to say that he expects them to repay this radical package by easing up on their impossible demands for price cuts from those in the supply chain and use his creative kills to find a more orderly way of rationalising supply and demand in the system.
What has BALPA been doing?
As well as pressing for improved terms, BALPA raised the safety issues with the CAA and the risks to UK energy supplied with the newly formed Oil and Gas Authority. We have, where possible, tried to avoid job losses by encouraging part-time working and have provided access to BALPA career services to those members affected. We also joined with other unions to create the Offshore Co-ordinating Group to further strengthen our voice, a move which was welcomed by MSPs.
We will be supporting a motion to the STUC Congress in Dundee on 22nd April, which will marshall the STUC in full support of the objectives of the Offshore Co-ordinating Group. The full text of the motion is available here. The motion is being backed by Unite, the RMT and Nautilus as well as BALPA. As National Officer for helicopter pilots, I will be speaking to the motion on behalf of BALPA Offshore members.
We will bring further updates to members as events unfold.