No Just Transition – 9 March 2023


Cop 26 in Glasgow now seems so long ago. Underwhelming in almost every aspect, the one success was the commitment to a “Just Transition” for Nations, businesses, communities and workers. The UK has since echoed that pledge outwith the gathering and has had a supporting chorus from the Scottish Government.

A Green Jobs Taskforce from south of the border and a Just Transition Commission north of it are now established. What could possibly go wrong for workers as we seek to move from oil and gas to renewables in the North Sea. After all, it’s the industry most affected and although fossil fuels remain vital there’s a shift on that will only increase in pace.

But there’s issues arising with the minimum wage not being uniformly applied and immigration law being used to exploit workers from abroad. Worsening that’s the lack of coverage for existing employment rights and especially health and safety legislation. The latter has been brought to light by a recent tragedy.

On Sunday 22nd January a UK worker went missing from Valaris 121, a Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit being towed to Dundee and which was then some 98 miles from Aberdeen. Police Scotland investigated and whilst satisfied there was no requirement for any further action by them, still had concerns which saw them notify the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Now this is a situation where HSE wouldn’t normally become involved. That they did so is perhaps indicative of wider concerns. But though they are involved, they do not have responsibility or authority. Had this been land then they would have had primacy and a report to the Crown may well have been forthcoming leading to a Fatal Accident Inquiry. Had it been on an oil or gas rig or even on a turbine then a similar situation would apply.

But this occurred both outwith the UK territorial waters of 12 miles and on what is classified as a ship or vessel. Accordingly, this doesn’t come under health and safety laws but maritime regulations. They proscribe that the investigating authority is the vessels Flag state or where it’s registered. In this case its Liberia, a flag state where apparently operations are managed from Virginia in the USA. So, the presumed death of a UK worker’s to be investigated by a country in another continent and one where its shipping registration already causes concern.

This tragedy affects far more than one grieving family, as it has ominous implications for hundreds if not thousands transitioning to offshore wind. Whilst the current legislation covers working on a turbine or even a cable, the nature of the sector is that little time will be spent there. They’ll be covered if the unit or vessels is attached to the turbine.

But that’s only a small part of the job.  Instead, it’s either travelling to the offshore wind farms or working on vessels such as Valaris, which are more akin to floating workplaces than ships that sail. Most often they’ll not attached to a turbine and rights won’t apply.

It’s why the legislation needs changed, as the sectors expanding fast, affecting not just hundreds but thousands of workers. It just cannot be right that a death in the North Sea’s left with Liberia to investigate. This isn’t a Just Transition.