Union calls for a ‘level playing field’ for contract bids as offshore wind sector set to grow

Written by Peter Urpeth on 7 March 2019 in News

Unite calls for government intervention in bids for offshore manufacturing contracts

Image credit: Holyrood

Unite the Union has called on the Scottish Government to intervene to ensure that Scottish companies have a ‘level playing field’ with foreign firms as they try to secure large-scale contracts in Scotland’s offshore renewables sector.

The call comes after Unite warned fabrication contracts for the Moray East and Kincradine offshore wind farm projects had been awarded to firms in the UAE, Belgium and Spain, with BiFab yards in Fife losing out. Responding, the union expressed concern that “foreign firms may receive state aid, putting Scottish firms at a disadvantage”.

However, one BiFab fabrication yard in Scotland is celebrating the award of a new contract in the sector.

BiFab’s Arnish yard on the Isle of Lewis has secured a contract worth more than £25m to manufacture 150 pin piles for the Moray East windfarm development, that could see more than eighty jobs created on the island.

Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minister for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands said: "The award of this contract is great news for BiFab and the wider Isle of Lewis community. The Scottish Government’s continued support, and collaborative approach with [BiFab’s owners] DF Barnes, has helped secure, at peak, 82 good quality jobs for this yard.

“However, we have always been clear there remains hard work ahead to rebuild the pipeline of work for the business. It is essential developers and the wider supply chain look to utilise Scottish content wherever possible from the start, helping our indigenous supply chain become stronger and more competitive that is in the interests of the sector and economic impact is a key consideration as we consider future licensing opportunities and planning applications.”

The new contract comes after energy minister Claire Perry announced a new renewables investment deal, worth £250m and potentially creating 27,000 new ‘green collar’ jobs, alongside measures to ensure that coastal communities around the UK benefit from the growth of the sector.

Unite’s national officer for energy, Peter McIntosh, said the union supported the announcement but urged the government to ensure any new jobs are concentrated in the UK.

He said: “The proof of the pudding will be in the eating when it comes to increased jobs in this sector. We want this to be a bonanza of UK skilled employment opportunities.

“This is especially important given the challenges to the UK economy generated by continuing Brexit uncertainty.

“As the wind farm sector develops in the years up to 2030, there will be valuable contracts in the offing for companies and those contracts should go wherever possible to UK firms.

“Finally, the government must involve trade unions in the development of this sector deal to make sure the workers’ voice is heard, which is again extremely important in post-Brexit Britain when workers’ rights could be under threat.”

Justin Bowden, GMB National Secretary, said the union welcomed any employment boost, but added: “The truth however is that to date the so-called 'green jobs revolution' has largely been a figment of the imagination of politicians of all parties and those pushing for an over reliance on renewables - with all the risks to our future energy supply and economic competitiveness.

“The track record so far has been one of work for foreign companies or poorly paid, casualised employment. Just ask the workers at BiFab in Fife about new green jobs and a just transition.

“If Claire Perry’s vision is actually to be achieved with decent, well-paid and skilled jobs, then the Government will need new rules about renewable energy sources.

"Companies in receipt of taxpayer subsidy must be required to source the work and jobs in the UK, with a strict condition they cannot be registered in tax havens.”  

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