Nfld. & Labrador

Oil and gas workers demand action for 'bread and butter' industry

People involved with the offshore oil sector want all levels of government to take action to help the struggling industry.

Industry has lobbied for months asking for help

Hundreds of people flocked to the steps of Confederation Building on Wednesday calling for action from the provincial government to help a struggling oil and gas industry. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Lobbying cries boomed from the front steps of Confederation Building on Wednesday afternoon as hundreds of oil and gas workers and their supporters rallied to escalate their demand for all levels of government to help the struggling industry.

"What do we want? Political support. When do we want it? Now," the protestors chanted.

The rally, organized by Unifor, comes after months of lobbying for a plan to help the industry that has been hit hard in recent months, affected both by the pandemic and an international production war that saw a plunge in oil prices earlier this year.

The union represents more than 700 workers on the Hibernia and Terra Nova offshore oil and gas platforms.

"The trickle-down affects more than 20,000 people in this province, if the federal and provincial governments don't act as soon as they can," said Dave Mercer, president of Unifor Local 2121.

"I know they're working on a plan, but we can't wait two months or six months. It will have devastating effects on the entire province."   

The state of the offshore oil sector has dominated the House of Assembly since its opening, and the rally was preceded by a social media campaign.

'Bread and butter' for families

People involved with the Newfoundland and Labrador Federation of Labour and the Newfoundland and Labrador Oil and Gas Industries Association also spoke to the large crowd, along with some workers from the offshore.

Amanda Young, a chef aboard the Terra Nova FPSO, said she and her partner are employed in the offshore industry to support two young daughters. 

"This industry, as it is for many offshore families, is our bread and butter. It puts food on our tables, roofs over our head, clothes on our back and gas in our car," she said.

"These opportunities will no longer be on the table for many this year, simply because the jobs won't be there. The money won't be there."

I've spent many restless nights worrying about my future.- Carmelita Synard
Amanda Young says her colleagues in the oil and gas industry are beginning to worry about their future. (Curtis Hicks/CBC)

"Our members are hurting. Job losses are in the thousands, company closures have occurred, and right now I am having a difficult time feeling optimistic about the future of the offshore, but also of Newfoundland and Labrador," said Charlene Johnson, chief executive officer of Noia, which represents the service and supply sector of the industry.

"For months we have heard from federal officials that help is coming. We have heard that the urgency of our situation is understood. We have heard a whole lot of platitudes. But, we have not seen action."

Johnson said the solution is simple: short-term help to get people back to work, and long-term help to allow the province's offshore oil and gas industry to compete on the global scale and secure the future. 

"This is not a bailout. This is an investment in our industry, an investment in the future of our province," she said.

Furey shows support

A plea to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau from a united lobby group in May predicted that there could be a loss of nearly $61 billion in investments between now and 2038 if a quick solution isn't offered.

The federal government has shown little public encouragement to invest in the sector, but Premier Andrew Furey took to the podium in a surprise appearance near the end of the rally.

Furey told the crowd he calls the federal government every day. But later he told reporters that using the word "deal" is too strong to describe what's happening behind the scenes.

"We don't have anything on the table other than how important this is to the industry and to the province, and how there is no future here without it," he said.

"They're assumingly doing their due diligence. We're talking to them, holding their feet to the fire as I suggested, putting the appropriate pressure, putting the urgency on them, and they'll have to deliver. That's the bottom line."

Premier Andrew Furey says he calls the federal government every day to tell them how important the oil and gas industry is to Newfoundland and Labrador. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

The industry has faced numerous challenges in 2020, the latest on Sept. 9, when Husky Energy announced it was hitting pause on the future of its $2.2-billion West White Rose extension project, saying it needed government financial support to continue.

A day later, Newfoundland and Labrador Finance Minister Siobhan Coady said the province could not agree to the 'tremendous investment' it asked for.

Increasing layoffs

Young said she has been a part of the industry for a decade, but has seen more layoffs in the last six months than during her entire career before that.

"The morale is far from fantastic. Life is far from good. You can see the stress on people's faces," she said. 

"They're worried. They're worried about if they're working the next hitch. They're worried if they might have to sell their houses, how they'll pay their next mortgage bill, car payment, their medical bills, their children's medical bills."

Carmilita Synard, who worked aboard Hibernia, has been in the oil and gas sector for 18 years. She was among a list of employees who were laid off in June. 

"Unfortunately, due to the financial impact of being laid off, this has me seriously considering the option to leave my province permanently," she said. 

"I've spent many restless nights worrying about my future, and where do I go from here.… Like others I tried to balance the financial budget of just paying the essential monthly bills, which is now proving to be very difficult in this economy. You can imagine just how hard it is to leave your family and friends to start all over again." 

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from Patrick Butler and Terry Roberts


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