3 Aug 2021

Plea for set quota of MIQ rooms for oil rig workers

5:45 am on 3 August 2021

The mayor of New Plymouth says a lack of managed isolation spaces is forcing New Zealanders working on overseas oil and gas rigs to choose between their careers and their families.

Oil rig

File image. Photo: 123rf

Neil Holdom said if the government can bring in foreign workers, movie stars and professional rugby players, it should reserve MIQ places for the workers.

Holdom said many of his mates, who started their careers in the Taranaki oil and gas industry, now worked overseas as fly-in, fly-out contractors.

They have told him the current MIQ system did not work for them, he said.

"One of them got in touch with me and said: 'hey, look I'm stuck. I've just done 11 weeks and I'm wanting to come home for four weeks, but I can't get a place in MIQ and it's like a lottery and we're having to make decisions about whether we carry on with our careers or we spend time with our families because we can't do both'."

Holdom said reserving 10 MIQ places every fortnight for overseas-based rig workers and seafarers would pay for itself by keeping highly paid Kiwis employed.

Neil Holdom.

Neil Holdom says just 10 reserved places would help the plight of New Zealanders working in the oil or gas industries overseas. Photo: RNZ / Robin Martin

He estimated there were about 200 to 300 New Zealand oil and gas workers overseas and their taxes were worth millions of dollars a year to this country.

"We're bringing in foreign workers to work in New Zealand businesses, we're bringing in movie stars and we're bringing in foreign rugby players, but we don't seem to have a place for these Kiwi workers who work offshore feeding Kiwi families and paying huge amounts of tax to New Zealand.

"And all we are saying is 10 to a dozen beds a fortnight ... why not just try it?"

New Plymouth resident Gavin Shaw, who was not one of the offshore workers who contacted Holdom, has been on an oil rig off the coast of Myanmar since May.

He said the Covid-19 situation there was deteriorating and it did not look like he would be able to get home until next year.

"Out on the rig here it's not bad, but in town it's bad because there's really high levels of Covid.

"We have people that we work with here, their family members are dying while we are out here because they can't get oxygen and with the coup going on it just makes it worse because up until recently it wasn't too bad but now it's gone crazy."

Shaw said he appreciated that it was his choice to work in Myanmar, but his family at home was worried he would get sick.

"It's worrying for them because they all think I'm crazy being here, but it's hard to give up something that you've had for so long. You know it's 16 years I've been working for this lot.

"As you could imagine it's a bit stressful because you don't know when you are going to be able to go home. It's like an emotional strain on everyone, isn't it. For them at home and for me here worrying about them and them worrying about me."

He said his employer, Diamond Offshore, was offering to fly him to the United States where he could take his shore leave - at his own expense including airfares - but he believes MIQ spots here should be available to New Zealand citizens and taxpayers.

Seafarers NZ spokesperson Kevin Judkins said anyone who works on something that floats was considered a seafarer - including offshore oil and gas workers.

"Roustabouts, roughnecks, drilling supervisors, and anything like that, under the Shipping Act they are all considered seafarers, and part of that ID system is that they carry a seafarers discharge book which is part of the proof they are seafarers."

Judkins said the government had an obligation to all seafarers including the rig workers.

"The Maritime Labour Convention states that all signatory governments should make all best efforts to repatriate seafarers that get off a vessel in a foreign port and assist them in getting home."

He wanted the government to set aside 20 MIQ spots for seafarers and oil and gas workers.

In a statement, acting joint head of Managed Isolation and Quarantine, Andrew Milne, acknowledged that travelling around the world right now was not easy, and that many people were in difficult situations.

He said MBIE was not currently looking to make any changes to the policy settings relating to seafarers or overseas based oil and gas workers.

"Creating a specific allocation of rooms available to New Zealand seafarers overseas is not practical, as it would be difficult to forecast numbers returning week-to-week, and this would likely result in more rooms being empty that would have been available for other returnees."

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