A Hull MP has blasted a decision to continue an open-door policy to allow cheap foreign labour to be used in the Humber’s offshore wind industry.
The Home Office has opted to extend a waiver that allows offshore wind construction companies to bring in workers from outside the European Economic Area (EEA) without requiring a visa.
The immigration loophole allows companies to pay non-European workers, who are often out at sea for 12 hours or more a day, less than the UK minimum wage, with some working for less than £4-an-hour.
Maritime union RMT has called the year-long extension, taking the waiver up to April 2020, a “betrayal” of British seamen, while Hull East MP Karl Turner said the move meant his constituents were being “undercut” by cheap labour from overseas and denied jobs in the green energy sector.
RenewableUK – the body representing Humber companies such as Ørsted and Siemens Gamesa, which operates the turbine blade factory in Hull – has distanced itself from the Whitehall decision, saying the waiver extension was not called for by the North Sea’s big players.
The industry recently signed-off an offshore wind sector deal – an agreement heralded by the Prime Minister as the country looks to switch away from fossil fuel energy supplies – that promised to encourage locals into the workforce.
Mr Turner, Labour’s maritime and shipping spokesman, said: “This is the fourth waiver the Home Office has granted and this time even without the industry requesting the waiver.
“It is a further blow to UK seafarers. The offshore wind sector is a growing industry and it is vital that British seafarers can compete fairly for these jobs.
“We have a good number of seafarer ratings in my own constituency in east Hull that are unable to compete for these jobs due to being unfairly undercut by foreign non-EU seafarers paid much lesser exploitative rates of pay.
“The Government need to end this exploitation immediately and give our own skilled British seafarers the opportunity to compete for these jobs.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of the RMT union, said: “The construction and installation of wind farms are where most jobs are created yet the Home Office has decided to issue another waiver, the fourth by our count, to allow wind energy companies to profit from importing cheap labour to build and maintain wind farms in UK waters for another year.
“The betrayal of UK seafarers and exploitation of foreign seafarers continues under this failing Government.”
Even without the non-EEA employee waiver, contractors are still able to use immigration loopholes to pay foreign workers less than half the minimum wage as long as they are deemed not to reside in the UK.
The Edda Passat, a UK-flagged vessel but run by Norwegian company OSM, is being used to ferry supplies, as well as engineers and divers, from Grimsby Docks to the Race Bank wind farm being built by Ørsted off the Lincolnshire coast. A contract agreement seen by the Mail shows Polish staff are being paid to work as stewards on the ship for as little as £3.60 per hour – well below the £8.21 minimum wage for someone aged over 25 in the UK.
Other wind farms across the country are being built and serviced using cheap Filipino crew – a situation made possible due to the Home Office’s non-EEA waiver.
Industry body RenewableUK had previously backed extensions of the waiver, which has been in force since October 2016 and extended on a six-month basis since April 2018.
However, executive director Emma Pinchbeck said the organisation “did not ask for this waiver, or any extension of it” and predicted companies seen to be exploiting staff would “likely lose business”.
She said: “As the sector deal announced last month makes clear, the offshore wind industry believes that we should be providing fairly-paid jobs. Companies who are looking to supply services to the offshore wind sector should know that we are strongly committed to responsible business practices, and any company not delivering on these values will likely lose business.”
RenewableUK said, as agreed in the sector deal, a new body would be set-up to advertise offshore contracts to British companies.
International Marine Contractors Association (IMCA), the lobby group representing companies building the wind farms in the North Sea, has previously petitioned hard for the waiver to be continued.
A spokeswoman for the IMCA said: “The border control action taken in early 2017 took some in the offshore contractor community somewhat by surprise, but the resulting waiver extension by the Home Office was welcomed by giving industry some time to adjust to the regime. Two years on, we are not aware of any current issues.”
A Home Office spokesman said the “need” for the waiver would be “kept under review” during the next 12 months.
He said: “The Home Office agreed to grant a concession as a temporary arrangement, outside of the immigration rules, to workers deemed to be essential to the construction and maintenance of wind farms within territorial waters. This temporary arrangement was put in place to give the wind farm industry the opportunity to take steps to regularise its arrangements for their employees.”
A publication from the University of Hull in 2017 forecasted that the number of maintenance and operation jobs in the sector would increase from around 6,000 this year to more than 16,000 in 2032.
At full capacity, Race Bank wind farm can power 400,000 homes and Hornsea wind farm, being built off the East Yorkshire coast and due to be the world’s largest wind farm when completed next year, will light up one million homes.
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