News

Energy ‘unsung heroes’ attend sector conference in London

22 September 2021

More than 50 Prospect energy reps attended sector conference in London on Tuesday, 21 September, where they discussed some of the pressing issues facing the sector, as well as hearing from guest speakers, including shadow energy minister, Alan Whitehead MP.

This was the only sector conference to be held in person this year and it also featured a panel discussion on COP26 and green jobs; breakout sessions on fatigue and Equality, Diversity and Inclusion; and general secretary Mike Clancy on the future of Prospect.

Opening the conference, sector president Richard Clatworthy, paid tribute to energy members, reps and full-time officers for their work through these ‘tumultuous times and in difficult circumstances.’

In her remarks to delegates, Prospect senior deputy general secretary Sue Ferns echoed those sentiments.

“I want to say my thanks for all the work that you’ve done in really difficult and turbulent circumstances over the last couple of years. To our health and safety reps, where would British industry be without you through this difficult period?”

“We know there’s an energy crisis at the moment and the contribution that you all make as unsung heroes and the people who keep the lights on should be celebrated. For me it’s a great privilege to have been able to work with all of you over the past couple of years.”

Challenges and opportunities

Presenting the annual report, Sue Ferns said:

“I’d like to highlight some of the challenges that we face in the sector, which reflects some of the broader challenges in the union, but also some of the opportunities that I think lie ahead for us.

“I think it’s fair to say that, whichever part of the sector you work in, change is constant, and it will continue to be so.”

On behalf of the sector executive committee, she summarised some of the most pressing issues facing the sector including:

  • The urgent situation at Springfields Nuclear Fuels
  • Several nuclear plants that have recently gone offline, or will be going offline, over the coming years
  • The closure of coal plants: “the energy infrastructure that many of you grew up with is disappearing and it’s changing.”
  • The changes at National Grid and its transition to a smart grid
  • Making progress with Ofgem on workforce resilience in the sector
  • The spectre of the public pay freeze now hanging over the NDA companies

Renewables & Net Zero

In particular, Sue Ferns spoke about renewables, which is the least unionised part of the sector, and the path to Net Zero.

Sue Ferns

Sue Ferns speaking at the Energy Sector Conference 2021

“Prospect’s policy is for a balanced energy policy; we believe the scale of the Net Zero challenge is such that we need a contribution from all parts of the energy system.

“It’s been good to see the growth in renewables and It’s really, really important but it poses some challenges for us. In the renewables sector you get a lot more resistance even from some of the same employers who have collective agreements with us in other parts of their own business.”

The sector executive committee has pledged to make recruitment in renewables and pressing on key issues in the sector such as terms and conditions and health and safety a priority for the coming period.

On the government’s climate change policies, it was noted that they have now published an Energy White Paper, a 10-point plan and a Green Jobs Taskforce report.

However, Sue Ferns, who sat on the Green Jobs Taskforce, said: “It’s all very well to say the right words but what we need is the action to match those words.”

“Climate change and Net Zero agenda is a broad national theme that has particular relevance to all parts of this sector, but we need to ensure that it works for all our members.”

Membership

As well as all the external challenges, there was a discussion of the sector’s membership figures.

Despite some big success stories over the last year with strong growth at branches such as at UKAEA and RWM, there was a general warning that the union needed to continue its focus on recruitment and moving into new areas.

An aging workforce in energy was also highlighted, underlining the need to attract younger and more diverse members.

“We need to ensure that as a union we are becoming more diverse and that we are representing the people that you live with in your community and the people you work with,” said Sue Ferns.

“I think it’s true to say that with such turbulence in the energy markets and with the importance of Net Zero that we are at a particular moment in time, where your incoming sector executive will have some big issues to address about how we go forward.”


Energy

From generation to transmission, Prospect represents the interests of over 22,000 members working across all parts of the energy sector.