An abuse of power workers

The SSE Renewables run Beatrice wind farm off the shores of Scotland. 

The energy industry is making record profits - but workers on offshore wind farms are being paid pennies and cannot afford to heat their own homes.

Public ownership would mean decent contracts, permanent work and that workers would be treated with respect.

Workers braving sea storms and harsh conditions for 12 hours a day, every day of the week to maintain wind farms in the UK are in some cases being paid less than £5 an hour, according to a new report from Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland.

Listen to economist James Meadway's analysis of the Our Power report at his podcast Macrodose.

Just five oil and gas firms made almost $200billion profit globally in 2022, yet 73 per cent of oil and gas companies in Britain invested nothing in renewable energy production while the UK Government levied less than a tenth of the tax take of the Norwegian Government for a barrel of oil.

Read: Tory voters back onshore wind

At the same time, the Tories have waived immigration pay rules for the offshore wind sector for the past five years, resulting in crew members on the SSE Renewables run Beatrice wind farm off the Scottish coast being paid less than £5 per hour.


Mark, a rigging supervisor who has worked offshore for twenty years, described the impact of declining pay and the need for a government-backed jobs guarantee. 

He said: “When I was working on the River Tyne, I spoke to a guy who had worked in the oil and gas industry for 40 years. He asked me where I got my survival suit, because he wanted one for the winter.

"Not to go out anywhere or for work, but to sit inside at home. He couldn’t afford his gas and electric over the winter. To have someone who has worked their whole lives in the industry asking me a question like that, I felt like crying.”

These shocking revelations come in a new report and policy plan for decarbonisation and public ownership published by Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland which "puts workers front and centre."

The Our Power: offshore workers’ demands for a just energy transition plan has been published following a winter of unprecedented strikes and struggles for fair conditions at work, affordable energy and stronger public services.  


Our Power gathers together demands, costed proposals and case studies that show how offshore oil and gas workers can lead a just energy transition, and why they must. The demands were developed after two years of workshops and research with people who work in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Julie, who works as a Heli Admin in Aberdeen, described why she supports public ownership of energy: “Public ownership would mean decent contracts, permanent work and that workers would be treated with respect.

"It’s less of a danger to our working environment than having someone who is cowed, stressed or worried about their livelihoods. If you look at places like Norway, the attitude of the Norwegians is so different to the attitude in Britain.

Public ownership would mean decent contracts, permanent work and that workers would be treated with respect.

"They own stakes, own rigs themselves. It gives them a greater responsibility. It would be ours, we’d be part of the big machine, we own it, we run it and it's for us.”

Surveyed workers want fair pay and protections across the sector, arguing that we cannot model offshore wind in the broken image of the oil industry.

This research shows:

  • Whistleblowing protections do not apply to self-employed workers, who make up a substantial proportion of an increasingly casualised workforce, leaving many workers vulnerable to blacklisting and victimisation for speaking out. 
  • Training standards body GWO (wind) has so far failed to come to an agreement with OPITO (oil & gas) and other bodies on standardising training across the offshore sector, meaning duplication and extra costs to workers.

The current energy system results in: 

  • Globally, just five oil and gas firms made almost $200billion profit in 2022.
  • Low taxation means companies in the UK take home the highest proportion of revenue of any country -  the UK Government took less than a tenth of what the Norwegian Government took in taxes per barrel of oil in 2019. 
  • Despite huge profits, 73 per cent of oil and gas companies invest nothing in renewable energy production in the UK. 

The demands have been backed by over 1,000 surveyed offshore oil and gas workers, alongside major unions and organisations working in the energy and climate sector, including the RMT, Unite Scotland, Unison Scotland and Uplift, among others.


The demands are comprehensive in their scope, transformative in their scale, and deliverable now. As it stands, offshore workers across the RMT, Unite and GMB are looking to industrial action over existing pay and conditions, with more than 10 per cent of the workforce being balloted by Unite alone.

A worker-led just transition would reinvest money in communities through a sovereign wealth fund and share the benefits of our energy system fairly. The UK is losing out on revenue that could support households and public services, while private, polluting companies profit.

Neither the Conservative government nor the Labour Opposition have put forward concrete plans for a genuine just transition for workers and the most impacted communities, campaigners say.

At the same time, the UK Government has recently begun the process of handing out licences to explore for more oil and gas. 

The windfall tax actively incentivises extraction and compromises climate commitments, allowing polluting companies to ‘offset’ as much as 91 per cent of their tax liability against increased oil and gas extraction.


Meanwhile, we are yet to see the progress we need from Labour’s Just Transition Working Group. The party's flagship Great British Energy, while a promising start, falls short of the comprehensive changes needed across the whole energy system. 

Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland call on the UK and Scottish Governments to back the fully costed demands.

Gabrielle Jeliazkov, just transition campaigner at Platform, said: “The future of the UK’s energy system should be in the hands of workers and communities.

"Industry profiteering and government inaction has left us with soaring bills, declining working conditions and no plan for an energy transition. In the midst of the climate and cost of living crises, offshore oil and gas workers have developed a way forward.

"Politicians must deliver on these demands. We cannot trust obstructive industry bosses working in their own interests to develop solutions that protect workers, communities and the climate.”


Mary Church, head of campaigns at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said: "Our current energy system is destroying our climate, is unaffordable to millions and is failing the people who work in it. Climate science is crystal clear that we have to rapidly phase out fossil fuels if we want a liveable future.

"Failure from politicians to properly plan and support the transition to renewables is leaving workers totally adrift on the whims of oil and gas companies, and the planet to burn. The Scottish/UK Government must pick up these demands and run with them as part of their just transition plan for the energy sector.”

Jake Molloy, a regional organiser at the RMT said: “The workforce must be fully engaged, involved, and empowered in the process if we are to achieve a real just transition. Politicians must wake up to the fact that we need a new model.

"The current lack of a real transition plan from politicians and industry is failing the existing workforce, fuelling discontent and disillusionment which is evident with the growing number of disputes and industrial action. These demands are the start of an energy plan that will deliver affordable and secure energy, through secure employment across the energy sector.

"We need an industry that protects domiciled and migrant workers, who must be paid as UK workers and not exploited for greater profit. We need a manufacturing base to support new developments and decommissioning. The voice of the workforce must be heard.”

This Author

Brendan Montague is editor of The Ecologist. This article is based on a press release from Platform and Friends of the Earth Scotland. The names Mark and Julie have been used to protect the identity of the workers being quoted.

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