Published on 18 Jan 2013 Sections ,

Algeria gas plant: a life of high risk, high reward

As the prime minister rues the kidnapping of British gas workers in “one of the most remote places in the world”, Channel 4 News looks at the life of a typical expat oil and gas executive.

Expat oil and gas workers in frontier markets such as Algeria can earn some of the highest country premiums on top of their usual salaries (Image: Reuters)

According to recruitment firm The Curzon Partnership, frontier markets such as Algeria, Libya and Nigeria offer some of the highest “country premiums” for working abroad over UK salaries.

A typical oil and gas executive in Nigeria earns the most, taking nearly half a million dollars home a year. Meanwhile in Algeria, Curzon said a supply chain manager in their mid-to-late 30s with 10-15 years experience would expect to earn a tax-free base salary of £120,000 a year. They would also receive a “hardship uplift” of 35 per cent for working in a frontier market, as well as a bonus of 30-40 per cent of their annual salary, and a pension.

“It is very financially rewarding,” Helen Di Mauro, a partner at Curzon, told Channel 4 News. So much so, that oil and gas companies continued to successfully recruit people throughout the widespread uprisings of the Arab Spring.

“We’ve had no trouble recruiting people,” Ms Di Mauro said. Algeria, however, was largely unaffected by the Arab Spring, and though the Foreign Office has warned against travelling there, for the past 10 to 15 years it has attracted a steady stream of expat workers.

“People have been here all along – since the period when Algeria was struggling to get insurgents under control 10 or 15 years ago,” Ms Di Mauro said.

There are other places far most hostile to foreign workers, such as Nigeria, she said, adding that “it is much more about whether they can handle camp life, which is extremely dull”.

Camp life is not for everyone, with very little for workers to do in the evenings except sit in their Portakabins and watch television, or go to the on-site gym.

They are not spending any money when they are there – the trade-off is that they have a fairly good lifestyle when they’re off. Helen Di Mauro, Curzon

Oil and gas expat workers are usually highly skilled graduates and will range in age from their mid-30s to their late 50s. They will typically work on a rotation system of 28 days on, 28 days off, according to the Offshore Energy Branch of the transport union RMT.

Each job is shared by two people working “back to back” – while one is working their 28 days, the other has time off. In Algeria, each expat role will also typically be matched by a local worker in the same position to nurture skills in the local market.

Companies pay handsomely for the isolated lifestyle the workers have to endure. However, as Ms Di Mauro pointed out: “They are not spending any money when they are there – the trade-off is that they have a fairly good lifestyle when they’re off for 28 days.

“It’s not a job that you come to mid-career – it’s not for everyone. But some senior roles are more flexible, while other people will take advantage of the time off to travel around the area they’ve been sent to.”

Expat workers travel to remote areas such as Algeria at their own risk. The Foreign Office told Channel 4 News that it offers businessmen the same advice it offers any travellers, though companies themselves will receive more in-depth risk reports from the government’s UK Trade and Investment department.

However, a spokesman for the RMT told us that despite the risks: “There’s a boom in the oil and gas sector at the moment, so when you get a boom you get more refineries and more demand for workers.”

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