For quite some time now, I have been hearing from people in our oil and gas sector as it relates to local employment opportunities, both on and offshore.
Whether through listening to calls on the “Open Line” show, talking to citizens at the grocery store, phone calls and emails to my office or exchanges on social media, many people have presented anecdotal evidence that would suggest that the intent and spirt of the Atlantic Accord is not necessarily being realized when it comes to local benefits and opportunities for employment in this province.
Most recently, a constituent of mine indicated that he has been employed in the oil and gas industry since Hibernia first came on-stream and at that time, the vast majority of workers you would find on the rigs and/or supply vessels were Newfoundlanders and Labradorians.
Now he says that’s no longer the case with workers coming from all over the globe.
You hear similar grievances from skilled trades workers who are searching for employment while much of the fabrication work that could be done right here in this province is farmed out to some foreign jurisdiction. The same can be said for laydown facilities and other industrial opportunities associated with our offshore.
And then, of course, there is the high paying executive positions. It is extremely difficult for many to swallow the notion that a corporate head or regional office for any company whose primary business lies within the N.L. offshore would be located in Halifax.
So, while it may be all well and good for government to boast about royalty regimes and equity stakes (a debate in itself, particularly with borrowed money), when it comes to our resources, employment opportunities should be at the very forefront of the discussion. Not only does employment directly benefit the individual workers and their families but also stimulates the local economy through the purchase of goods and services. It also provides a significant infusion of cash into government coffers through personal taxation.
So what, if anything, has happened? Has government weakened its position at the negotiation table over the years as it relates to local employment benefits? Is this a case of big oil failing to fulfill their contractual obligations? Is it a case of a lack of monitoring and enforcement of agreements by our government through the Department of Natural Resources and/or the CNLOPB?
Are union agreements in any way factoring into this problem? Or is this more of a perception issue than a legitimate concern?
I honestly don’t know the answers to these questions but it definitely needs to be given some attention by our government.
In that regard, I have written our minister of Natural Resources and requested that her department initiate a review of all applicable benefits agreements to ensure that we are indeed receiving all of the benefits, particularly as it relates to local employment, which we are entitled to as the owner of this valuable, non-renewable resource.
That is not to suggest that it is even remotely realistic to expect that every single opportunity associated to our offshore be restricted to local companies and local workers. After all, we do have our limitations and are part of a global economy. And of course there are many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that earn their living abroad and bring those paycheques home to the benefit of our province.
That said, we still need to ensure we derive maximum benefit from our finite, non-renewable resources. That includes negotiating solid benefits agreements as well as monitoring and enforcing them in order to close any loopholes that may exist that could potentially allow local employment requirements to be breached.
I therefore call upon our government to look into this important matter and ensure we are receiving all of the benefits to which we are entitled.
Paul Lane, Independent MHA
District of Mount Pearl-Southlands