'Cheap foreign workers being prioritised for offshore wind jobs', warn MPs and trade unions

By Hull Daily Mail | Posted: 18 Jul 2018

Lax immigration rules are preventing British seafarers and labourers from getting jobs in the offshore wind industry, MPs and trade unions have warned.

The world’s largest wind farm, Hornsea, is currently being built off the Humber coast – but critics say Humber workers are not feeling the benefit of the predicted jobs boom.

The renewable energy industry successfully lobbied the Home Office in April 2017 to introduce an immigration waiver for those working on the construction of the major North Sea wind farms.

Danish energy producer Ørsted built Race Bank wind farm from its Humber base and is now in the construction phase for Hornsea, with blades made at Siemens Gamesa’s Green Port factory in Hull being fitted to the huge wind turbines.


The first monopile installed at Hornsea Project One

When Hornsea is completed in 2020, it will reportedly produce enough energy to power more than one million homes and will be central to making the UK’s energy supply cleaner.

READ MORE: 'Being at sea is a wonderful career but we need to do more to protect the mental health of our seafarers'

Since 2017, ministers have regularly renewed the non-EEA workers’ waiver, allowing wind farm construction companies to by-pass British talent and hire-in labour from around the world for the past 15 months.

The waiver is currently in place until April next year.

The Home Office said the waiver was “essential” in order to ensure the wind farms are completed on schedule – but maritime trade unions accused the Government of "selling out" UK seafarers.

Unions said ministers were “bending the rules” to allow “cheap foreign crews” into the offshore sector at the expense of home-grown talent.

The majority of the foreign workers are said to be from the Ukraine and the Philippines, according to union sources.

Karl Turner MP, Labour’s maritime and shipping spokesman, said ending the waiver would “stimulate training and jobs for UK workers, including seafarers”.

The Hull East MP said it was “vital” that his constituents could “compete fairly for all offshore wind jobs”.


Karl Turner, Labour maritime spokesman and MP for Hull East, wants ministers to review its offshore wind immigration waiver

Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT, the trade union representing ratings workers on ships, said the waiver meant foreign workers could be hired “without any requirement to try and fill those jobs locally first”.

“We must see an end to these waivers and the development of a skilled and growing offshore wind workforce in the UK,” said the union boss.

Nautilus International, the union representing officers, also slammed the waiver saying there was “no shortage of suitably skilled and experienced British nationals” available to work in the offshore industry.

The union’s national ferry organiser Micky Smyth said: “Why are ministers bending the rules to allow cheap foreign crews into the sector when British seafarers are struggling to find work?”

But RenewableUK, representing the offshore wind industry, said the relaxation of worker immigration rules was needed in order to quickly build a workforce with the required skills.

“During the construction phase, which is particularly labour-intensive, companies need flexibility to employ people with the right specialist skills for particular tasks,” said executive director Emma Pinchbeck.


Turbine blades and towers being shipped from Hull to the Race Bank wind farm

Ørsted said it was “absolutely committed” to investing in the Humber and “helping local people access the many exciting roles in offshore wind”.

A spokesman for Ørsted, a company owned by the Danish government, said it had partnered with education charity Teach First to “improve pupil progression in Grimsby and Hull” and last year started an apprentice scheme in partnership with Grimsby Institute.

Once operational, the career roles attached to wind farms tend to be taken locally as they provide stability in one area, whereas construction projects move between countries. 

Grimsby MP Melanie Onn, backed Ørsted’s approach to improving opportunities for young people in the town.

She said Grimsby was “seeing the rewards” of Ørsted’s engagement with the community and its focus on improving the town’s skills set.

“While the current visa rules allow offshore wind farm companies to hire workers from outside the EEA, our local firms have been committed to providing education, training and apprenticeships to people in our area,” said the Labour shadow minister for housing.

“They have participated willingly in skills fairs for local people, and are seeing the rewards in recruiting gifted and talented people from our area.”

Martin Vickers, Conservative MP for Cleethorpes, said there was a balance to be struck in terms of getting his constituents jobs in the renewables sector but while also ensuring the wind farms were built to deadline.

He said he would be taking up the issue of the immigration waiver with Ørsted in the coming days.

“Of course I’m sympathetic to ensuring local people get an equal opportunity of jobs in the renewable sector and have frequently spoken out on this subject,” said Mr Vickers.

“Equally I recognise it’s essential we meet construction deadlines by ensuring workers with the appropriate skills and I’m pleased Ørsted have an excellent apprenticeship scheme.

“I will be discussing this issue again with the company in the next few days. I’m sure both the Government and the renewables sector will work together to ensure we all benefit from the opportunities the burgeoning sector can provide.”

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Home Office agreed to grant a concession, outside of the immigration rules, to workers deemed to be essential to the construction and maintenance of wind farms within territorial waters until 21 April 2019.”

The International Marine Contractors Association, a lobby group representing companies building the wind farms in the North Sea, said the Home Office’s waiver had “provided clarity and certainty” for construction firms.

A Home Office spokeswoman said: “The Home Office agreed to grant a concession, outside of the immigration rules, to workers deemed to be essential to the construction and maintenance of wind farms within territorial waters until 21 April 2019.”



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