BRITISH workers are being replaced by cheap foreign labour to serve Scotland's green revolution after the Home Office agreed to extend a migrant worker extension.

The Herald understands that at least one predominantly British-based crew has been let go on the day they were due to start work on one of Scotland's largest offshore wind farms - with recruiters citing the extension of the Offshore Wind Workers Concession (OWWC)  rules which allows the employment of cheaper foreign nationals on offshore wind projects.

Unions have been fighting the OWWC which allows companies to skip the usual post-Brexit immigration restrictions and employ foreign nationals to join vessels engaged in the construction and maintenance of offshore wind farms.

Originally introduced in 2017, the government has repeatedly renewed the 'temporary' concession. In 2021 this was done with no warning, on the day after it expired.

Now it has emerged it has happened again, and as of October 31, when the concession was due to expire, it has been extended even further until April 30, 2023.

It is feared that this has now laid the door open for the continued use of cheap foreign workers.

It comes as demand for offshore wind staff is expected soar with the industry council saying the sector staffing is expected to more than treble to 100,000 by 2030 and experts says it is typically heavily reliant on foreign national talent. A third of the jobs are in Scotland.

The decision by the UK government to extend the concession comes after concerns by the industry that offshore wind farm operators would struggle to maintain operational continuity due to a shortage of skilled and qualified staff.

Now it has been confirmed that as a result of the extension, at least 36 predominantly British crew recruited in anticipation of the concession ending have been given their marching orders in the wake of the extension.

The workers are employed on the Normand Navigator, a Norway-registered key supply ship working on the huge £2 billion Neart Na Gaoithe (NnG) offshore wind farm project in the Firth of Forth off Fife.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers say it is expected that they will be replaced by the Filipino crew that had previously worked on it.

RMT sources say that means a British deck hand who would be paid £18 to £20 an hour will be replaced by cheaper Asian workers.

They say it is the first blatant signs of the extensive use of the preference for cheap foreign workers serving offshore wind farms around Scotland, that has been widely rumoured.

Norwegian offshore service and supply ship shipping company Solstad, which owns the vessel, say their crew salaries are in line with at least the national minimum wage which is at £9.50 an hour.

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Papers seen by the Herald reveal how the workers on the vessel were given their marching orders by recruiters ESRG on the very day the contract was due to start and they were due to join the vessel.

ERSG, who act for Solstad said in a notice of termination dated November 8 sent to staff on Normand Navigator that the firm informed them that they wish to terminate the employment agreement "prior to its start on November 8 because the requirement for workers has changed. This is the result of the extension by the UK government of the Offshore Wind Workers' Concession."

Staff were told of the termination verbally three days earlier and that they had a seven day notice period.

ERSG told staff that under a contract for services, there was "no obligation" to provide work and because the contract had not yet started there was also no obligation to provide any payment.

They said Solstad had, however, agreed to provide payment for three days of services.

It comes after the P&O Ferries crisis drew public attention to the undercutting of pay and conditions by companies in the maritime sector.

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In March, P&O Ferries immediately fired 800 seafaring staff by Zoom with concerns that they were to be replaced by cheaper mainly foreign agency crew.

Former justice secretary now East Lothian MP Kenny MacAskill said the fact wind farm jobs were going to overseas workers was "absurd".

"P&O was a disgrace and yet now the Home Office is allowing a repeat just miles off our shores. It’s not just a windfall tax that’s required but action against those firms not just profiting from our misery but exploiting our workers," he said.

Jake Molloy, Aberdeen-based regional organiser of the RMT said this was the most transparent obvious example of cheap overseas workers being preferred to British confirming their worst fears of what was going on in the wind sector.

"It is exploting foreign nationals to exploit our resources for major operations on the cheap," he said.

"We have been aware of it going on since the concession was in place and we believe it should be stopped.

When employing a migrant worker to an offshore installation located close to the UK, the individual must usually have permission to undertake the job offered to them in the form of a work visa.

The concession currently in place, outside of the UK’s Immigration Rules, allows the employment of foreign workers who are joining vessels engaged in either the construction and maintenance of offshore wind projects in UK territorial waters (UKTW) - a 12 nautical mile zone from the mainland.

To determine whether a migrant worker will require a UK work visa – typically, a sponsored visa under the points based system – employers would usually need to consider whether work is undertaken wholly or mainly within UKTW, or beyond on the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS). The employer would also need to consider whether any migrant worker forms part of any seafaring crew.

But deciding whether sufficient time is being spent in UKTW so as to require a work visa is fraught with complexities.

The UK offshore wind workers concession removes that uncertainty over whether or not sponsored work visas are required or available for the relevant job roles. It also removes the associated costs, compliance and process aspects of sponsoring foreign nationals to work on an offshore installation located close to the UK.

When the concession was extended last year, WindEurope said: “It gives businesses breathing space to adjust to post-Brexit realities. This ensures a reliable energy supply and an orderly expansion of wind energy in UK waters."

One father-of-three, who has been in the offshore sector for nine years said they were told staff would be replaced by employees from the Phillipines.

"We were convinced that we had jobs for the next 12 months. It was a shock for us. We were all broken.

"We need to remember many of us resigned other contracts for certain work for a 12 month period.

"We all have financial liabilities, families, accounts and house payments."

An ERSG source confirmed to the Herald that the move to bring back foreign workers was the result of the concession being rolled forward and that they were mere "pawns" in the situation and not the direct employer.

"This is what happened and it is being driven by government policy," said the source, who said they were not responsible for employing the foreign workers. 

"We had no control of what the client wanted to do," he said.  "The international people were significantly less expensive, is my understanding."

Gary Cunningham, managing director of Solstad Offshore in Aberdeen said: "The reason we went back to our existing crew is because they have been on our vessels for years, which creates operational efficiencies. We only changed crew because the UK Government threw a deadline of October to comply with regulations then changed it. We got messed around."

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A Solstad Offshore spokesman added: "We confirm the Normand Navigator has been engaged to work on a Scottish windfarm.

"The windfarm concession was to end by 31 October, but was on short notice extended to April 30. 2023,

"In line with the windfarm concession being extended, Solstad Offshore postponed the plan to replace their long standing Filipino workers for temporary ad hoc workers.

"Solstad Offshore pay all workers, regardless of nationality, above the UK National Minimum and Living Wage and have recently passed a HM Revenue and Customs compliance audit which confirms this."

In October, the  first wind turbine jacket foundation was successfully installed at the Neart na Gaoithe offshore wind farm.

Following the arrival of the first steel jackets on site, Saipem, through its subcontractor Heerema, lifted the first steel wind turbine jacket into place, lowering it on to pre-installed piles on the seabed.

The Normand Navigator offshore support vessel moved into position to undertake subsea grouting and inspections to conclude the installation.