Aftermath of helicopter crash – Oil Rig Workers demand fair wages

The recent helicopter crash near the Jubilee Oil Field at sea has sparked some tension among local oil rig workers who are now on the verge of going on a strike if they are not paid the right salaries.

Adom News is reliably informed that the Ghanaian rig workers have been silently agitating for years for the right salaries due them, but on Thursday, workers on two rigs currently at sea, Stena Drilling and West Leo, took their complaints to the expatriate rig owners directly and one of the Offshore Installation Managers gave them his full support and urged them on to fight for their due.

Some of the workers spoke with Adom News on grounds of anonymity because, according to them, the local recruitment agencies [who recruit workers for the rigs], allegedly backed by some expatriates, usually threaten to fire any rig worker who speaks out about the unfair treatment being meted out to Ghanaians on the rig.

The workers mentioned ML Trinity Ghana, Rig World International Services, Seaweld Ghana Ltd and Menergy Ghana Limited as the four main recruitment agencies in Ghana right now.  

Risks at Sea
An Oil Rig at Sea
The workers noted that the recent helicopter crash was just one example of the risks they face on daily basis at sea, while local recruitment agencies, who largely know very little about activities on the oil rigs, sat onshore and enriched themselves at the expense of the rig workers.

The workers mentioned that a colleague called Prosper, for instance, had his leg amputated because of an accident on a rig called Sedco sometime in 2010. Prosper was recruited by Menergy.

Two others called Daniel Ayittey and Gad Kwakye, recruited by ML Trinity, also got their fingers and palm bones broken instantly on a rig called Stena Drillmax in 2012 and 2013 respectively, due to pressure from a pipe. None of those issues went public. Meanwhile, insurance cover for both of them still remains a mirage since the accident. There are several other accidents involving broken knees and others.

The riggers work on slippery floors and with chemicals mostly labeled as deadly and cancer-causing if inhaled for too long; and yet a greater part of the money meant to cover the risks, end up in the pockets of recruitment agencies who sit onshore.

Unfair Wages
Those Ghanaian recruitment agencies allegedly collect huge sums in dollars from the rig owners but pay the Ghanaian rig workers peanuts in Ghana cedis, while the expatriate and even other African nationals doing similar work on the rigs are paid way more.

Documents in the possession of Adom News indicate that the take home pay of expatriates and other nationals doing same work as Ghanaians on the rigs within the sub-region are over three times higher than what Ghanaians get as take home pay. 

One worker told Adom News they are aware, for instance, that currently, their recruitment agency collect $7,800 (GHC24,234) as basic salary per  Welder per month, plus other allowances meant for Welders. But in reality the recruitment agency pays Welders a gross salary of GHC9,340 for the 12hours a day for 28 days on the rig, with all the risks.

This means the recruitment agency is slicing more than GHC14,000 off the basic salary of each Welder every month, and they are also keeping every additional dollar denominated allowance meant for that Welder. While the Welder also pays taxes and other deductions of the GHC9,340.  

A copy of a contract one recruitment agency, ML Trinity has signed with three categories of workers (Roughnecks, Radio Operators and Motormen)   indicate that those workers were being paid a gross salary of GHC7,340, out of which there will be taxes and other deductions made. So those workers will only take home about GHC6,000 each. Meanwhile, the recruitment agency is supposed to have collected between GHC6,000 and $7,000 in the names of each of those workers as basic salaries in addition to other dollar denominated allowances.

So on weekly basis, the recruitment agencies and their expatriate back ups are making hundreds of thousands of dollars off the backs of the Ghanaian rig workers, while they also collect their commissions for service provided.  

Minister of Energy
Energy Minister Emmanuel Armah Kofi Buah
On November 9, 2011 the then Deputy Minister of Energy, Armah Kofi Buah (now the Minister of Energy) held a meeting with stakeholders in the oil industry, including representatives from all the local recruitment agencies, Rig Workers Association of Ghana (RWAG), Rig owners, Ghana National Petroleum Corporation (GNPC) and some officials from the Ministry, including the Local Content Coordinator Efua Amissah.

The meeting discussed mainly the local content aspect of the oil industry, and touched specifically on remuneration and training for locals recruited into the oil industry.

At the meeting the Minister and the Local Content Coordinator insisted on respect for Ghanaians and fair treatment. The Local Content Coordinator also questioned why Nigerians doing the same work as Ghanaians on the rig, were paid more than their Ghanaian counterparts.

Representative of two rig owners, Ocean rig and Transocean insisted that salaries were based on local conditions, and cost of living was higher in Nigeria than in Ghana, hence the disparity.

But the Minister insisted that to the extent that Ghanaians did the same work and faced the same risks on the rig as their Nigerian and expatriate counterparts, they should be paid equal salaries for same job.

New Salary Proposals
At the end of the meeting therefore, representatives of one recruitment agency called Solmed, GNPC, and RWAG were tasked to meet and come up with a proposal for realistic salaries for Ghanaian rig workers.

They have since come out with the proposal way back in 2012, based on what pertains across the West African Sub-region. It has been referred to the Petroleum Commission, Ghana (PCG), with copies sent to the Ministries of Energy, and of Employment and Social Welfare since 2012.

Chairman of the RWAG, Jonathan Kotoku, who is Ghana’s first Sample Catcher and was part of the team that first discovered oil in Ghana, told Adom News they have gone back and forth on those proposals but nothing has been done to improve the lot of the rig workers in spite of the risks they face daily on the rigs.

He noted that the local recruitment agencies continue to maintain a non-transparent relationship with the rig owners and collect huge sums on behalf of rig workers, but pay them peanuts.

Indeed, at the meeting with the Minister in 2011, the recruitment agencies were asked to furnish GNPC and the Ministry with the contracts they sign with the rig workers, reflecting how much they are paying them, and what deductions they made from their salaries.

Kotoku insisted that GNPC and the Ministry are fully aware of what the recruitment agencies are collecting from the expatriate rig owners and what they are paying to the Ghanaian rig workers but ‘for reasons best known to themselves they have kept quiet over it all these years and we keep suffering.’      

Questionable contracts
At that meeting, it also emerged that the recruitment agencies have contracts similar to the questionable contracts under GYEEDA. They were required to be able to pre-finance salaries of rig workers even when rig owners delay in paying. But they also get separate commissions for the service they provide to the rig owners.

In spite of the huge commissions the recruitment agencies get, they also slice huge chunks off the moneys meant for the rig workers, which is a breach of industry practice around the globe.

For instance, sometime in 2012, Ocean Rig, owners of the rig called Olympio posted a notice of bonuses paid to Seaweld (a local recruitment agency) to pay to rig workers. That was how the workers found out how much the agency has been collecting from the rig owners as compared to how much it was paying to the workers.

A copy of the notice available to Adom News indicates that out of a total of $560,448 paid to Seaweld, they paid out only $119,217 to workers and kept a whopping $441,231 for themselves. This is beside their commission. (Details later).

Adom News also chanced on the salary scale for one of the rigs, which indicate huge sums in pounds sterling paid out to a particular recruitment agency for rig workers, but the agency pays the workers less than half, and in some cases less than a third of what is due them.

Avoiding the issue
Adom News managed to reach the Local Content Coordinator at the Ministry of Energy, Efua Amissah on phone to find out what she has done so far to make good her concerns about the unfair treatment being meted out to Ghanaian rig workers, but she passed the buck to the Petroleum Commission, Ghana (PCG).

When Adom News called the Chief Executive Officer of PCG, Theophilus Ahwireng, he said he was out of the country so he could not speak to the issue. Adom News also called the Minister of Energy, Armah Kofi Buah and he said he was also out of town.

Adom News also called Justice Bonney, the CEO of ML Trinity, one of the local recruitment agencies, but he refused to speak to the issue and in a rather confrontational tone, queried how Adom News came by his phone number.

Adom News also called one Alfred Fafali Adagbedu, CEO of Seaweld but he also said the matter is for their HR department to handle so he cannot speak to it as CEO.

However, reliable information reaching Adom News indicates that after the calls were made to the recruitment agencies’ bosses, some of them have been calling individual rig workers to find out who leaked the information to the media; and they have started issuing their usual threats to use some workers as scapegoats.

According to the works, divide and rule, and threats to sack are weapons the recruitment agencies have used over the years to keep the workers weak and unable to fight for their due.

But the workers have sworn that this time round they are resolved to ensure that they got what is due them, so that Ghana will also get the right taxes from their respective salaries, instead of all that money going into the pockets of some mafia recruitment agencies and their back up expatriate rig owners.

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