Kiwi oil rig workers say they’ve been shut out of top jobs on a rig bound for the Taranaki coast – claiming all the senior roles were promised to European-based crew.
At least 18 jobs on the Chinese Oil Services rig Prospector were advertised online in January. But internal circulars by the Chinese-owned, Norwegian-based COSL as early as last June invited European staff to apply for 30 or more posts on the rig when it came to New Zealand. Immigration NZ said that would “raise some concerns”.
The company has now applied for 64 work visas for overseas senior rig staff – leading to protests from trade unions and workers who weren’t recruited.
Stuff has spoken to four senior, experienced rig workers who replied to the advert but weren’t interviewed for roles which matched their skills and experience. The rig company and its recruiters said many Kiwi workers weren’t experienced on the specific type of rig.
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None of the workers would be named for fear of blacklisting, but one called it “blatant false advertising… a scam” and has complained to Immigration NZ (INZ) and the minister, Iain Lees-Galloway. INZ is talking to complainants.
One man, a senior toolpusher with over three decades experience worldwide, said he’d applied for a job on Prospector because he wanted to work closer to home. He was told others with more recent experience got the jobs. He said an entirely new crew was being recruited for the rig, so Kiwis wouldn’t have displaced existing staff.
“Kiwis apply for these jobs, even pay to update all their certificates, and don’t get the jobs – what these adverts are for is to they can go along to Immigration NZ and say ‘we advertised, and we got nobody suitable’.”.
“I believe it is arrogance from their HR department in Norway: they perceive themselves as far superior to us out here and they don’t want us working on their rig. They only want to use Kiwis for the grunts, and bring the brains in from elsewhere.
“If lots of other Kiwis got the jobs, I would have no complaint – the best man won, and I’m not against companies being able to choose who they wish. If it was an open and honest selection process, I would have no argument.”
An experienced driller said he applied for a job matching his experience, confirmed he was a NZ citizen, then heard nothing further.
One experienced Kiwi rig electrician working offshore said he’d heard nothing of his application apart from an acknowledgement. He had all the certificates and qualifications he would need for the job. “I applied because it was coming into NZ waters so it appealed to me; I’ve worked offshore for the last 10 years. I never heard anything back from them. It was exactly the same position as I’ve got now [offshore].”
Another driller said he applied for an assistant driller’s position – a step down from his current role and he’d worked with the systems to be used on the rig for over a decade. “I called [COSL’s employment agency] Atlas… they seemed disinterested when I spoke to them on the phone. After that I emailed my CV, but never got a reply.”
Applicants received emails from New Plymouth-based recruitment agency Atlas saying: “we anticipate a large response”.
INZ general manager Peter Elms said internally advertising roles would “raise some concerns for us – we would have to be absolutely satisfied any subsequent kind of advertisement and recruitment process had been fair and equitable and not pre-determined.”
The circular, from then COSL chief executive Jorge Arnesen, announced the Prospector contract and said “in order to execute this contract in a safe and professional manner, COSL will also mobilise experienced key personnel from the North Sea” and asked candidates to email the HR director, Osvald Borgen. Another email said they needed “about 30 key personnel .. to manage the operations”, listing the roles – many of them similar to those in the online advert.
COSL have a rig already in NZ, called Boss. It similarly advertised roles for that rig on Seek, and ended up with 37 overseas crew and 66 Kiwis.
In an email to Stuff, Borgen said the rig required a “high degree of rig-specific competence in order to operate safely and effectively”.
He admitted there was an internal application process for candidates to take the rig to New Zealand and set it up but that process was “rig-specific knowledge and competence, and not nationality”.
“To operate a highly advanced rig in an area like New Zealand represents a huge responsibility to any rig owner,” he said.
Several senior roles would come from COSL staff because “there is no other way”. He said 46 of the 63 staff on the rig at any time would be locals and said they would commit to hiring and training more into senior roles.
Elms said the company had asked for 66 visas and told Immigration NZ they would hire 98 locals. He said in general, most of the 98 roles were lower technical positions and the 66 were senior posts.
Elms said as most were highly-specialised, INZ needed to see if there were Kiwis available to fill them and would be asking questions of the company’s recruitment process and consulting unions, MSD, Worksafe and the Labour Inspectorate, and why the men who spoke to Stuff had not been hired, and would ask the company for “concrete promises around training New Zealanders”.
NZ Merchant Service Guild general secretary, Helen McAra, wrote to Immigration NZ opposing the visas, saying the company had been “disingenuous” in advertising the jobs in New Zealand when they appeared to have already been recruited offshore. “We are relying heavily on INZ to ensure that New Zealanders are not shut out of this work in their own waters.”
McAra wanted INZ to check the dates of the overseas offers, and check CVs to see if they were superior. If there was a specific skill shortage, INZ should time-limit visas and demand Kiwis be trained up to replace overseas staff. She said four Australians with the ability to hold the senior roles on the rig had been appointed to lowest-ranked officer roles as a ‘token’ to “earn some sympathy” and “to provide some comfort to INZ that at least ‘some’ local officers have been employed, albeit in the lowest possible ranks.”
A senior organiser at the Aviation and Marine Engineers Association, Stan Renwick, said a recurring issue was his union offering to provide complete crews to overseas vessels, and instead being asked for only a handful of staff. Renwick said he always opposed such visa applications because there were plentiful skilled Kiwi staff. “But we haven’t ever been able to secure the top positions…They want their own people.”
Taranaki organiser for E Tu Union, Ross Henderson, said it was standard practise for rig companies to bring their own senior staff and only hire lower and mid-ranked staff locally.
Atlas Recruitment general manager David Bishop said Atlas followed industry-standard practices and their recruitment had been “very thorough, extensive and genuine in nature – it could not have been further from being a ‘box-ticking’ exercise” and they had assisted a “significant number” of Kiwis into jobs. Bishop said the rig had many systems and equipment unfamiliar to many Kiwi applicants.
Prospector will drill in the Tui oilfield off the Taranaki coast. It left Bergen, Norway, in February and will arrive here in late May or early June, and after Taranaki it may also drill in the Southern Basin off Dunedin.