North Sea helicopter pilots have today indicated strong support for strike action if helicopter companies do not make serious improvements in the way they deal with job losses.
And they have also highlighted the serious impact on safety the threat of redundancy is having.
In the survey conducted by the British Airline Pilots’ Association (BALPA), pilots accepted the downturn in the industry meant jobs would go, but were frustrated at the way management are going about it.
Pilots want the helicopter companies to improve voluntary redundancy arrangements to try and prevent as many compulsory job losses as possible. And they believe the companies are not valuing the experience of senior pilots highly enough in deciding who may need to be made redundant.
BALPA General Secretary, Jim McAuslan, said: “We are not being unreasonable. We know the downturn in the North Sea is going to hit jobs, but the way the companies are going about it is causing massive frustration, borne out by the very high turnout and strong ‘yes’ vote in this ballot conducted over just four days.
“In the event management do not substantially shift their position BALPA’s National Executive Council will be meeting early next month to consider a move to a formal strike vote, something we are still hoping to avoid.”
A strong and worrying message from the survey was concern over safety. Pilots reported that the threat hanging over them, their families and their colleagues, was having serious unintended effects on their ability to sleep and concentrate.
One pilot commented: “In the past two weeks…there has been a noticeable change of focus in the cockpit. Crews are concerned and distracted and this is reflected in an increase of mistakes and lack of awareness. The threat of being ‘at risk’ is dominating the mindset of the majority of our pilots.”
Another said: “Do we really want pilots to be worried how their training costs and mortgage will be paid on a dark and stormy night?”
And a third said: “Radio calls are being missed. Pilots’ heads are not in the cockpit.”
Jim McAuslan continued: “Safety must come first. We are not saying that helicopter companies are indifferent to these issues, but we would be remiss if we didn’t highlight the stress and pressure that pilots are feeling. We will be passing these concerns on to the Civil Aviation Authority who regulate aviation in the North Sea.”
But a spokesman for the Oil and Gas UK trade association also warned that safety cannot be compromised.
He said: “In light of the damage to competitiveness driven by rising costs and exacerbated by the falling oil price, companies on the UK Continental Shelf have been working hard to improve efficiency and reduce expenditure.
“Regretfully, this transformation is not without difficult decisions having to be made, but this focused approach and concerted action is beginning to yield results which will help to restore the attractiveness of the basin.
“However, there is still a long way to go. The lower and volatile oil price demands the sector becomes more efficient if we are to weather the downturn, and emerge in competitive shape, capable of again offering an attractive investment proposition. Safe operations must not be compromised at any stage of the process.
“As we work through these challenging times, it is important that any changes are implemented as constructively as possible to minimise the impact on those affected.
“We urge all stakeholders in this great UK industry – companies, unions and employees alike – to reject conflict and work together to avoid industrial action which would only serve to further undermine the sector’s future in terms of jobs, investment, innovation and energy security for the long-term.”