20 or 25 years ago, companies I worked for would have lots of team building days away, nights out, the morale was higher than it is now. I was paid off [made redundant] in 1986 and 1997/98, but each time the industry bounced back. But from the fall in 2014, [the industry] really hasn’t come back from that yet.
Morale is low, certainly in Aberdeen where 75% of the people are contractors and generally limited companies. Goalposts are often moved on IR35, companies repeatedly cut the rates of contractors, saying ‘your rates are cut 10% next month, take it or leave it’. I know guys who have had two or three pay cuts over six months, no negotiations, nothing. If one engineering company cuts rates, all the others do too. I’ve honestly long suspected there is a cartel around this, you’ll find that if one cuts by 10%, the others will follow in a week or two.
When the oil price is low, the companies just cut rates arbitrarily, but when demand is on the rise again, the rates start to rise too. You’ll end up getting a change in job title as a way around changing the rate.
In terms of changing terms and conditions in the industry, Frank describes:
“There have always been a lot of contractors, but maybe if you go back thirty years, the BPs and Shells employed a lot of engineers themselves. In 1990, BP basically outsourced all of their engineers to Brown and Root, with a lot of engineers taking the golden handshake of two years’ salary before moving to be contractors.
There aren’t many young people looking to enter the industry now. When I joined it was new, high tech stuff and it was a job for life. If you got into oil, you’d made it. Nobody ever thought about electric cars or saving the planet, it was seen as a long term career that paid good money – more than your average farm worker, brickie or joiner.”