I suppose it's because I have so much time on my hands these days, that all these memories come flooding back to me.
During my time in the oil construction industry I was made redundant or laid off quite a few times. I even kept all the letters to show future employers as to why I had been paid off. On one occasion, which I think I have mentioned before, I was made redundant by a firm that had just employed me along with a lot of others, and the firm then lost the contract within a few weeks of us starting work—in fact I was just on my second trip out when I was informed. This was a tad annoying as me and a few other welders had just passed the welding test requirement to work on that project, so we were lucky in a way, as the new company asked us to test out for them and carry on with the job in hand. This all came about as the company that had the original contract had fallen behind schedule, so the client replaced the contractor. All this really meant was that although the management had changed, the work was being done by exactly the same people who started it, as the new contractor simply kept the same workforce. Seems crazy, I know, but that was how things worked out there in those days. No one had a secure job, not even management. So there we were, walking across the bridge from the accommodation barge onto the same project, but wearing a different company name on the back of our new overalls, and reporting to a different manager or foreman.
Another weird experience for me at the time was that the place where we had to go to do our welding tests was the same place where I used to be employed as the manager, responsible for all aspects of the welders testing department, some 18 months earlier. I left them because the salary they were paying me was not what we agreed at the time of my starting there. The job was stressful enough, and it called for long hours, which I had been told I would be paid for. But they rescinded on that, and only paid me the flat salary, which of course was no good, as it meant I was working around 30 to 40 hours a week extra for no payment. The ironic thing about it was, while I was there doing my welding test, which takes the best part of a day to complete, they asked me if I wanted to come back and run the test centre for them again. I declined their kind offer, saying that I could earn more money working offshore as a coded welder.
The first time I was made redundant was from the firm I first started working for way back in 1974, when I came out of the Royal Navy. I started there as a welder after I had passed the required welding test, which they kindly gave me time to practise for, as I was a bit rusty after all those years. It was while I was there in the testing area that I met a bloke who was later to become a good friend of mine. We worked together on a few jobs, until his death some four years later, when he fell from a rig and simply disappeared. Someone had managed to keep track of him in the water while they summoned the safety boat, which is always there for any such incident, but by the time it got there about four minutes later it was too late—he had gone under. The North Sea can be a cruel place to work, and we all knew the risks. Yet we always think it will happen to someone else. He was the first of 19 mates that I knew who died in either work-related or flight accidents during the 14 years I spent in the industry.
As I mentioned earlier, I had started as a welder on that site and after three years was promoted to welding inspector. This meant I was then on the staff, where you would think your job was more secure than as an hourly paid worker. However, a year later I was transferred to the training school as a welding instructor, which was also a staff position. This turned out to be a bad move, as exactly one year later they closed the welding school and I was made redundant. If I had stayed on the tools as a welder instead of taking the staff job then I would have been kept on—a strange irony really when you consider that I took the staff job thinking it would be a good career move. Even more strange, I found myself back on that same site another six times over the next 14 years, albeit in different capacities, including as a welding supervisor and inspector on four occasions as a subcontractor, and would you believe as a welding instructor back in my old job but on a temporary contract, which was renewed every ten weeks. As time went by, the trainees that I had trained were going down the site as qualified coded welders and their jobs were more secure than my own, so after a few months of that, I left to take up a more permanent position working overseas in Turkey as a quality controller on a long-term oil refinery extension contract.