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SHELL have come under fire after denying union claims of huge job cuts at two of its plants raising ‘critical’ safety concerns – that were later confirmed.
Details seen by the Herald confirm Unite concerns that proposals affecting the energy giant’s Northern Systems and Plants (NSP) operations in Fife and Aberdeenshire would result in 63 out of 77 Kaefer jobs being axed at the Mossmorran plant with a further 46 out of 52 jobs being proposed for redundancy at St Fergus.
Shell had insisted last night that they “do not recognise the figures” and that “the number of Kaefer contractors involved in maintenance (including critical)” being reduced across the Mossmorran plant in Fife and the St Fergus gas terminal near Peterhead was just 15 bringing the size of the team down from 125 to 110.
Unite raised its concerns claiming that the proposals were to cut vital maintenance contractor jobs by more than 80 per cent.
Shell dismissed the union’s jobs and safety claim to the Herald, saying the reduction “in our core maintenance team” across both sites will be just 12%.
But last night Kaefer consultation documents over the Shell NSP confirmed that 109 posts would go leaving just 20.
Unite union rep Bob MacGregor said: “Shell have instructed Kaefer to reduce the maintenance workforce by those numbers. Our members who have been working on the maintenance of the Shell plant for more than a decade believe that the safety critical work that is outstanding cannot be done with the remaining workforce if they reduce by the proposed numbers.”
Shell insisted: “The safety of our plants, our teams and our communities is paramount and will not be compromised. Maintenance will be done at the right time by the right specialists. They will now be contracted for specific projects, rather than being based at the plants full time.
“At this time of economic uncertainty, we know that this news will be very difficult for contractor colleagues whose jobs may be impacted as a result.”
The union raised concerns about the cuts with trades impacted by the proposals include scaffold inspectors and supervisors, riggers and rigging supervisors, forklift drivers, general assistants and mechanical supervisors.
The concerns came a matter of days after protesters frustrated at the impact the Mossmorran plant is having on people’s lives staged a socially distanced demonstration and called for it to be shut down.
The protest on Saturday, mirrored by a similar demo outside the Scottish Parliament in Edinburgh – was called following the latest unscheduled period of flaring at the start of the month, with the Scottish Environment Protection Agency (Sepa) receiving hundreds of complaints about noise, vibration and light pollution caused by the process. It has been followed by further protests.
Protestors outside #Mossmorran campaigning against Exxon & Shell who continue to impact on the environment & health of residents. Residents were joined by XR groups whilst a simultaneous protest was held at #Holyrood in solidarity by @ScotClimateCamp & Scot.E3 pic.twitter.com/RS9TYLpxmR
— Mossflare (@Mossflare1) October 19, 2020
The Mossmorran Natural Gas Liquids (NGL) plant is part of the northern North Sea Brent oil and gas field system and is located on the outskirts of Cowdenbeath.
The Mossmorran facilities comprise two plants: the Fife NGL Plant operated by Shell and the Fife Ethylene Plant operated by ExxonMobil.
Unite said it had been in active consultation with the contractor Kaefer for weeks to stave off the compulsory redundancies, which it said was being enforced by the oil giant.
But Unite said Shell “remain intent” on pressing ahead with the proposals despite Unite representatives at both plants raising major health and safety concerns over the current and future condition of the Fife and Aberdeenshire plants due to the “dramatic reduction” in staffing levels.
The trade union is also warning that fire and safety responses to any major incidents at the Mossmorran and St Fergus plants could be severely impacted.
On the Mossmorron job cuts proposed by Shell and their main contractor Kaefer, Bob MacGregor, Unite industrial officer said : “Unite is deeply concerned that the level of cuts being proposed by Shell at the Mossmorran plant in Fife will result in potentially critical health and safety concerns.
“There are a number of ongoing issues at the plant which we have worked hard to resolve with the companies involved onsite. However, these proposals are of such a brutal nature that we are being informed by local union representatives this could impair the condition and maintenance of the installations. We call on Shell to step back and reengage with Unite to find alternative solutions because lives are at risk here.”
Vic Fraser, Unite industrial officer, said of the St Fergus proposals: “Unite has been working hard for weeks to stave off these job cuts by Shell. Nearly 90 per cent of the jobs across vital trades are being proposed for the axe with some trades being totally wiped out on the site. It is not that there is no work to be carried out here, there is, but rather Shell have decided that the Fabric and Maintenance work on site will be paused perhaps until 2022.
“Alongside a backlog of maintenance work from earlier this year and you start to see our major concerns. We are always told safety comes first but our members are not only concerned for their livelihoods but fear for colleagues left to work there, the local community and any environmental impact a potential incident on site could have.”
But Shell said the jobs that were going were because they had reached the completion point of some recent projects at the gas plants, for which contractors were brought in to support.
“The projects were scheduled to finish at this time, meaning those contractors would have no longer been working at Mossmorran and St Fergus anyway,” it said.
“In addition, we have re-phased the maintenance schedule for the coming years which will enable our plants to continue running at high safety and integrity. The bulk of that work will be managed by Shell’s core maintenance team. They will be supported by contractor workers – such as painters and scaffolders – who’ll be brought in to work on maintenance campaigns as required.
“Many of these contractors are currently engaged at the plants full time, when there is not always enough work for them to do. For example, during winter when we don’t schedule much routine exterior maintenance because of the likely poor weather.”
After the Herald put the documents to Shell, a source said: “We’re not refuting the overall numbers that Unite are putting forward about positions being reduced. We’re taking issue with the sense in the [Unite statement] that they are all safety critical roles and that people should be worried about the future of the plants as a result.
“The majority of reductions are to do with project work which is now completed. Only a small number are to do with core maintenance and conducting safety critical work.
“All that safety critical work will still be done. But on a project basis rather than having the workers engaged continually.”