Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed quarantine rules for oil and gas workers returning from overseas will not be eased, despite travel restrictions being loosened for the general public.
Changes introduced last month allow residents to travel outside their local council area and meet more people outdoors but restrictions requiring workers to quarantine in hotels, at a cost of £1,750 over a 10-day isolation period, remain in place.
Speaking at first minister’s questions on Thursday, Scottish Conservative North East MSP Liam Kerr called for the industry’s essential workers to be allowed to isolate at home instead.
Mr Kerr, the Shadow Cabinet Secretary for Net Zero, Energy and Transport, said the sector is being put in an increasingly “desperate” situation by the rules, which have now been in place for four months.
Nicola Sturgeon admitted in her response that the circumstances were “really difficult” for oil workers but said the measures will remain in place.
No clear answer
Mr Kerr said: “In February I asked the first minister when there would be a review into oil and gas worker quarantine to avoid them spending in some cases 10 out of 14 days and three-quarters of their wages in a hotel on return from work overseas.
“I received no clear answer. I asked again in March – no clear answer.
“As travel restrictions ease, is the first minister now in a position to give our key energy workers the review they so desperately crave and at least permit these essential workers to isolate at home?”
Ms Sturgeon replied that her government will “continue to keep all of these things under review” but said it had also faced “legitimate questioning and criticism” from opposition MSPs over whether earlier restrictions had not been cautious enough.
She said: “We need to make sure that first and foremost we are protecting people as much as possible against the spread of this virus.
“And that is particularly important when it comes to international travel because that is the key risk right now of importing new variants.
“These are all difficult issues for anybody having to quarantine in a hotel – it’s really difficult – but public safety and public health is paramount here, and I would hope that the Tories would accept that.”
Mental health impact
Unions and industry representatives have warned the quarantine policy means oil and gas workers may only be able to spend a handful of days at home at a time, potentially having a “significant impact” on their mental health.
Others have raised concerns about workers becoming trapped abroad because of the cost of returning home, with one worker setting out how it could cost more than £10,000 over the course of the year to get to and from their job in Oman.
The Scottish Government was accused of “dithering” on the issue in February after deputy first minister John Swinney was unable to say what further discussions had taken place after Nicola Sturgeon agreed to “consider” easing the rules.
Later on Thursday, Mr Kerr spoke of his frustration at Ms Sturgeon’s response, raising concerns of the mental health impact these rules are having on workers.
“I’m extremely disappointed by Nicola Sturgeon’s response which once again highlights that oil and gas workers are being pushed to the bottom of the pile during Covid,” he said.
“The industry wants assurances because there is no end in sight for the essential workers who are being cooped up in hotels for days on end.
“This restriction is having a devastating impact on livelihoods, yet Nicola Sturgeon seems to be turning a blind eye to the mental health impact of this.
“Families are pleading for this to change and it’s high time the Scottish Government listened to both them and the industry as a whole on this issue.”