Rig company told to train up Kiwis after jobs sent offshore

The COSL Prospector.
Getty Images
The COSL Prospector.

Green MP Gareth Hughes has asked the Immigration Minister to urgently review a decision by Immigration New Zealand to grant up to 66 visas for foreign workers on a Taranaki oil rig despite protests from unions and local rig workers.

Stuff reported in April that at least 18 jobs on the rig were advertised on Seek in January, but internal circulars as early as last June had invited European staff to apply for 30 or more posts, many of them similar. Four senior Kiwi rig workers also said their skills and experience matched the job advert but they hadn't even been interviewed. Maritime unions also lodged complaints.

At the time, Immigration NZ (INZ) said they would ask the rig company, Norwegian-based COSL, for an explanation about the internal advertising, saying it would "raise some concerns".

Green Party MP Gareth Hughes wants the decision reviewed.
Green Party MP Gareth Hughes wants the decision reviewed.

However, INZ have now granted an Approval In Principle (AIP) for overseas workers covering 66 jobs - but they have attached strict conditions forcing COSL to promote ten Kiwis from within the ranks to senior roles over the nine-month contract.

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INZ general manager Peter Elms said it was an opportunity to upskill New Zealanders.

 Immigration New Zealand's Peter Elms.
Immigration New Zealand's Peter Elms.

"We have got limited availability of high-skilled labour in the maritime industry and I think it is really important we use these opportunities wisely," Elms said.

"It's an opportunity to hold international companies to account for providing specialised training and experience and committing to promoting New Zealanders into these roles - so the next time they come back we have more people ready to fill them."

Elms said the AIP attached explicit time limits to train and promote Kiwi workers and to make genuine attempts to replace any workers who quit with New Zealanders. Non-compliance would prejudice future visa applications from the company.

There are 98 Kiwis on the crew, but the majority are in low-ranking roles and most senior jobs have been filled from offshore.

INZ said they had studied the company's NZ recruitment campaign, found it fair and for some of the most senior roles, there hadn't been a single Kiwi applicant.

They had also scrutinised workers' employment history and demanded evidence of qualifications, delaying nine of an initial 17 applications.

The Prospector arriving in New Zealand earlier this month.
The Prospector arriving in New Zealand earlier this month.

But Elms admitted that COSL had been "quite upfront that in some of those senior roles, they expect operators to be experienced COSL employees, because this is a very expensive piece of kit, very technically challenging, and it needs people familiar with operating it. We've got to accept that at face value."

The rig, the Prospector, arrived in New Zealand waters earlier this month, and workers were given temporary seven-day visas while visas were processed.

The case attracted interest from Green MP Gareth Hughes, who asked questions of regional economic development minister Shane Jones at a committee meeting this week, and has now written to Immigration minister Iain Lees-Galloway requesting he review the decision.

Hughes said he'd asked for a review "given that I am aware of people with significant industry experience who feel the system is being rigged and they are being disadvantaged, and they are alleging the company had little to no intention of employing Kiwis [in these senior roles], so I have asked the minister to review the case specifically.

"Questions have been raised and it is important we get to the bottom of it. When it comes to oil drilling, I am not the biggest fan of that sector, so the fact these oil workers have reached out to me does show a sense of urgency and desperation. While I would be happy to see this rig leave, I would prefer if it is here it has Kiwis on board."

A spokeswoman for Lees-Galloway said the minister was unable to interfere in operational matters.

Helen McAra, general secretary of the NZ Merchant Service Guild, said they had lobbied the minister and INZ for months about the rig and was pleased their concerns had been heard and conditions attached.

"However, some highly qualified members have missed out on jobs... because of high experience thresholds," she said, and they would monitor to make sure the conditions were met. She said the Guild had exposed visa breaches on other projects and would continue to act as a watchdog.

One of the four spurned workers Stuff spoke to said he believed many of the crew on board had poorer CVs than locals who didn't get jobs and claimed the visa process was "a weak and despicable whitewash where INZ once again throw Kiwis under the bus despite being presented with irrefutable evidence and arguments regarding the ways experienced Kiwis are prevented from doing this work and visas are, instead, easily obtained for migrant workers".

COSL's HR director, Osvald Borgen, said they had a good relationship with Immigration NZ and it had always been the company's intention to train and "gradually transfer more positions to local resources, including senior positions".

Sunday Star Times