Lax immigration rules are preventing Hull 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 British seafarers and labourers 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.
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.
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 homegrown 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”.
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.
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.
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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