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Union urges Labour not to ban new North Sea licences without plan for jobs
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Union urges Labour not to ban new North Sea licences without plan for jobs

The UK’s oil and gas workers risk becoming “the coal miners of our generation,” Unite’s general secretary, Sharon Graham, has warned, urging Labour not to ban new North Sea licences without a clear plan to safeguard jobs.

Unite is launching a billboard campaign in six Scottish constituencies aimed at persuading Keir Starmer to commit more investment to north-east Scotland, the centre of the offshore oil and gas industry.

Unless Labour can show it will protect jobs and communities, it should be willing to continue issuing new licences for oil and gas exploration, Unite argues. The slogan for the union’s campaign is “No Ban Without A Plan”.

“They are at risk of becoming the coal miners of our generation,” Graham said. “We only have to look at what’s happened in the coal towns. I’m the daughter of mining stock – my family’s from the north-east, lots of them were miners. And it’s decimation in some of these places. They’ve never recovered. And the difference is, we know this time – we can see it coming down the track.”

The shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, has promised to base Labour’s planned state-backed green power firm, Great British Energy, in Scotland. And part of Labour’s £7bn “wealth fund” will be earmarked for wind power.

But Unite, which was Labour’s biggest donor in the 2019 general election, wants to see more specific pledges of investment in green technologies in north-east Scotland.

Graham said Unite research suggested that £6bn over six years would be needed to kickstart wind turbine manufacture in the region. “You should not be letting go of one rope before you’ve got hold of another,” she said. “My main thing is that I cannot allow these workers to be sacrificed on the altar of net zero.”

She claimed a clear offer on jobs and investment would help Labour make much-hoped-for gains in Scotland. “Labour would be the heroes of the hour. Why wouldn’t you do that?” she said.

Most of the seats in which Unite is running its No Ban Without a Plan campaign – or their predecessors before boundary changes – are held by the SNP with comfortable majorities. Two are Aberdeenshire North and Moray East, and Aberdeen North.

Sharon Graham outdoors at a rally or eventView image in fullscreen

Despite the imperative for the UK to move away from fossil fuels, some unions expressed alarm last year when Labour first announced that it would not issue new licences for oil and gas exploration. The GMB general secretary, Gary Smith, called the decision naive. Starmer responded by saying to the GMB’s conference last June: “What I will never let happen is a repeat of what happened in coal mining where an industry came to an end and nobody had planned for the future.”

But Labour went on to drop its £28bn-a-year green investment pledge, sparking concerns among unions and environmental campaigners about whether it had set aside sufficient resources to smooth the transition to a net-zero economy.

Chaitanya Kumar, of the New Economics Foundation thinktank, said: “The oil and gas industry is ultimately a threat to us all and needs to be scaled down considerably. But ensuring a fair transition deal for workers is non-negotiable. Fortunately, Labour still have the time to come up with a plan without compromising on its commitment to stop new drilling of fossil fuels.”

The campaign group Uplift, which calls for a “rapid and fair” transition away from oil and gas in the UK, estimates that the sector supports 200,000 jobs either directly or indirectly, in the supply chain – a third fewer than a decade ago, as output has declined over time.

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Uplift director Tessa Khan said any government should work with local communities to manage the shift away from fossil fuels. “This part of the climate energy transition is going to require a huge amount of industrial change, and we absolutely cannot afford to victimise or throw communities under the bus,” she said.

A Labour source said: “Labour has a non-negotiable commitment to a proud future for the North Sea. We will deliver the most significant investment in the North Sea in a generation as we pursue our mission for energy independence and lower bills.

“If the Conservatives in Westminster and the SNP in Holyrood are re-elected they will continue to sell out workers and communities by leaving the industry without a plan for the future, as they have done for the last 14 years.”

Graham has made workplace battles on pay and conditions, rather than internal Labour politics, the centrepiece of her leadership since succeeding Len McCluskey, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn, three years ago.

However, she has previously pushed for stronger commitments from Labour on protecting jobs in the steel sector, and she attended a crunch meeting this week on the party’s policy on workers’ rights.

Jamie Peters, a campaigner at Friends of the Earth, said: “Two things are clear as we head towards the next general election. Firstly, any incoming government must accelerate our shift to a clean energy system, including no new oil and gas in the North Sea. This is the bottom line if we’re to meet our climate goals and stem the very worst of climate breakdown.

“And secondly, the transition must be designed in a way that’s fair, with workers and new jobs in emerging green industries at its heart, ensuring that no one gets left behind as we build a brighter future. What we’re yet to see is a plan for a cleaner Britain that’s equal parts rapid, ambitious and fair.”

Source: theguardian.com