25 May 2017
Unions are gearing up for a major campaign against gas giant Esso and its contractor UGL as evidence emerges the companies are employing some of the most heavily criticised tactics used by bruised beer company Carlton United Brewery (CUB) in its six-month self-declared “war” on its maintenance workers.
The Victorian branches of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU), the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) and the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) say the use of shelf companies and dodgy enterprise agreements could lead to onshore and offshore oil and gas workers in the Bass Strait losing up to 30 per cent of their wages on anti-family rosters.
ETU Victorian Secretary Troy Gray says the unions are surprised Esso would allow its contractor UGL to use of the kinds of tactics condemned in Senate hearings and the public arena in recent months.
The gas giant recently re-awarded foreign-owned UGL the contract to run the maintenance of the onshore and offshore facilities it owns in the Bass Strait. In December 2016 UGL secretly registered a subsidiary called MTCT Services, while negotiating a new agreement with workers and their unions. The unions claim MTCT is just a vehicle for wage cuts.
Workers were now being told they have no direct relationship with UGL, and instead must sign up to a new agreement with MTCT on up to 30 per cent less wages.
Similar to the CUB case, MTCT had a handful of workers in another state working in unrelated occupations vote up the new agreement with pay and conditions far lower than those enjoyed by the workers in Victoria.
“On Monday these workers were doing the exact same job, making millions for this gas outfit. On Tuesday, apparently they work for a completely new outfit on a third less of the wages – but still pumping the gas and making them millions. It’s the same shareholders profiting – they’ve just found a sneaky, underhanded way to cut wages,” said Mr Gray.
“What you’ve got here is a gas giant who has such disrespect for the Australian people that they think they can just jack up household prices, pay no tax, and now cut workers’ wages by a third. Does their greed have no limits?”
“We believe Esso, like CUB, are calling the shots and using contractors to drive down wages. We can only conclude they’ve come up with this strategy together to squeeze more out of the workers and evade their obligations under the Fair Work Act.”
Regional Victoria hit again
AMWU organiser Steve Dodd said that Esso and UGL are making a mockery of the Fair Work Act and evading their responsibilities to workers and the community.
“The last thing this community needs is a super profitable multinational company like Esso cutting wages and conditions by trying to force local workers onto a dodgy, unrepresentative agreement from the other side of the country,” said Mr Dodd.
“This will have a flow-on effect to the entire Gippsland community at a time when there has been unprecedented job losses in the region. It’s unacceptable,” he said.
“These workers have worked tirelessly for this company for many years, helping Esso produce record profits through their hard work and dedication to keeping the onshore and offshore facilities functioning efficiently and safely. It’s a real kick in the guts to the workers and to the local community,” he said.
“The writing is on the wall for this sort of greedy corporate behaviour – Australians have had enough. Esso and UGL need to rethink their actions and give these workers and their community a fair deal, and the government needs to fix our broken workplace laws to prevent this happening to anyone else,” said Mr Dodd.
First extreme conditions, now an anti-family roster
Australian Workers’ Union Victorian Secretary Ben Davis said it was disappointing in the extreme that UGL would seek to short-change workers in some of the most dangerous and demanding workplaces on the planet.
“Offshore workers, their safety at work, their families and the communities they support would be damaged by this proposed agreement,” Mr Davis said.
“It is just the latest ‘take it or leave’ assault on workers’ rights from a multinational determined to bully a workforce into submission.”
Among a litany of rights and conditions that would be lost under the proposed MTCT agreement, annual leave would be reduced, offshore allowances and loadings would be significantly cut and the length of shift rotations would be the employer’s choice.
Mr Davis said the harsh anti-family MTCT rosters would give workers zero control of how many weeks at a time they would be required to work. Currently workers work one week on, and one week off. Under the new arrangement it could be five weeks on, one week off.
He said the workers faced difficult, cramped living conditions on the platforms, where accommodation dates from the 1970s. He said it wasn’t easy to be away from family for a week at time, and much more time away from home would put strain on families. “It would be very hard to organise a life, much less any sort of work-life balance around such unpredictable arrangements.”
The three unions vowed to roll out a campaign to challenge Esso and UGL to stop using legal tricks to cut workers’ wages. “The Australian people have had a gutful of gas companies. They rip off consumers. They rip off the taxpayer. Now they’re ripping off the workers and their families. They won’t be getting away with this” said Mr Gray.
AMWU Media Contact: Gillian Strong | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0425 762 493
ETU Media Contact: Rory McCourt | email@example.com | 0423 048 968
AWU Media Contact: Mary McNamara | firstname.lastname@example.org | 0431 942 977