Demo at sea: Ghanaian rig workers protest on FPSO

Ghanaian oil rig workers on FPSO Kwame Nkrumah (MV21) have held a demonstration on the rig at sea to register their protest against woefully unfair salaries and other poor working conditions.

The rig workers, numbering about 45 at the time, were clad in red overall attire with red bands on their heads and arms, and they wielded placards that spelt out their message in no uncertain terms.

Some of the placards read “Enough is enough”, “Equal rights and justice for all workers”, “Onshore is better off, Offshore is worse off”, “least paid offshore workers”, “Modec Local’s pay is chaos”, “Ghana economy = Modec economy”, “No more t-shirts – no more mugs”, “Oil real, Salary fake”, “essential work, essential pay”, “we are hungry” and “This is just the beginning” among others.

They chanted and sang protest songs for the whole day, into the night as the well-paid expatriate rig owners and workers looked on helplessly, because they could do nothing without their Ghanaian counterparts.

Adom News can confirm that officials of Tullow Oil are furious about the demo because they lost millions of dollars in oil revenue as a result of that one day strike and protest; and the country also lost some oil revenue.

Tullow is currently breathing down the necks of the expatriate rig owners and the recruitment agency called Modec Ghana Limited, which is owned by a Singaporean.

Modec has reportedly queried each of the workers who joined the demo, but the workers say they had the blessing of their mother union, the General Transport and Petrochemical Workers Union (GTPWU), so they have referred the query letters to the union.

Prior to this fresh demo, Ghanaian workers on other rigs at sea had on several occasions complained to the expats about the unfair salaries, disrespect from expats and poor terms of service employed by local recruitment agencies since offshore drilling started in Ghana. But all that had fallen on deaf ears.

Apart from Modec, some of the other recruitment agencies whose names have come up in this matters are ML Trinity, Seaweld Ghana Limited, Rig World Ghana Limited, and Menergy Ghana Limited.

The workers alleged that, highly- placed sources within the industry informed them that Modec, like the other recruitment agencies, receive whooping sums in dollars as basic salaries on behalf of Ghanaian workers, plus additional allowances meant for the workers, but they pay them peanuts in Ghana cedis.

Indeed, documents available to Adom News shows that recruitment agencies, for instance, receive more than US$5,500 as basic month salary for particular categories of workers, plus other allowances which bring the amount to over US$7,000 per month per head, but they pay those workers the cedi equivalent of only US$450 a month, which is less than 10% of what they receive.

Adom News earlier reported that recruitment agencies receive even bigger amounts on behalf of other categories of Ghanaian rig workers like Roustabouts, Roughnecks, Material men, Sample Catchers, Painters, Derrickmen and others, but they pay them less than 10% of those moneys.

Meanwhile, other African nationals and expats doing similar jobs on the rigs take home whooping amounts every month, while their Ghanaian counterparts get woefully shortchanges by recruitment agencies sitting onshore, GYEEDA style.

Some of the rig workers could only manage to speak with Adom News on grounds of anonymity because the recruitment agencies are said to usually victimize individuals who speak out about the poor salaries.

But the workers told Adom Business “we had to do this because we have suffered for too long – our job is risky and that is why it comes with the benefit of relatively high salaries. But the recruitment agencies sit onshore and get rich while we suffer at sea and take peanuts,” they said.

“We have complained several times to our expatriate bosses at sea but nothing has been done about it so we are now at our wits end and this demo is just the beginning of more of such protests to push government, state institutions, the international community and the necessary stakeholders to ensure that the recruitment agencies paid us the salaries we deserve,” they added.

The workers observed that, by international standards, oil rig workers everywhere are paid well because of the tedious and risky nature of their work. But in Ghana, some recruitment agencies, ‘who do not even know how a rig looks like”, rather take a greater chunk of rig workers’ money in addition to their own service fees.

Indeed, there had been reports of some Ghanaian rig workers losing their legs, fingers, getting a broken knee, being exposed to deadly chemicals and suffering other damages to their bodies in the line of duty on the rigs. But the expats and recruitment agencies allegedly did very little to help those victims.

The rig workers have also sworn to hold more of such protests to buttress their demand for fair wages, saying “this is just the beginning”.

All this is happening in spite of a process started way back in 2011 for the salary disparity between Ghanaian rig workers and their foreign counterparts to be fixed.

Petroleum Commission
Adom News called two officials of Modec; one said “we do not speak media”, and the other referred Adom News to the Operations Manager of the Petroleum Commission, Ghana (PCG), Kwaku Boateng.

Kwaku Boateng passed the buck back to the recruitment agency saying “the specifics of the salaries for rig workers is not for the Commission to address but for the recruitment agencies.”

But even though Kwaku Boateng admitted he had no idea about the details of salaries paid to Ghanaian rig workers vis-à-vis how much the agencies are actually collecting from Tullow, he went to the defense of the agencies saying “you should understand that the agencies also train the workers and they have other administrative costs to bear.“

He argued that the salaries of Ghanaians rig workers are way higher than the salaries of other Ghanaians doing other jobs in the country. But he failed to explain why recruitment agencies, who do not go to sea, get fat salaries and buy expensive properties, while those who break their backs at sea are paid relatively lower salaries and are unable to afford similar properties.

On the issue of agencies threatening to sack rig workers who speak out, Kwaku Boateng said the agencies have internal communication rules which are binding on their workers so the rig workers cannot violate those rules. But he failed answer why the regulator would endorse a culture of silence, and why the agencies would feel confident to refer the media to the regulator.

Kwaku Boateng also kept cautioning this writer about the allegations and documents provided by the rig workers, but did not question why the agencies were evasive.

But he promised that the Commission would soon meet with both the agencies and the rig workers to find the way forward. He however did not say when those meetings would be held.

Meanwhile, GTPWU has taken up the matter and they are engaging their lawyers about the queries issued to the rig workers for demanding what is rightfully theirs.

Historical Background
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 rigs 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 the Rig Workers Association of Ghana (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 earlier told Adom News they had gone back and forth on those proposals but nothing had been done to improve the lot of the rig workers in spite of the risks they face daily on the rigs.

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 expat 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 one 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 agency, they paid out only $119,217 to workers and kept a whopping $441,231 for themselves. This is beside their commission.

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

The agencies have refused to comment on any of those issues.

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