Esso/UGL: One Year is too Long!

On 28 June over 500 Esso/UGL workers, their families and supporters gathered at Longford in South-Eastern Victoria, to mark one year of fighting Exxon and their contractor over 40% pay cuts and an anti-family roster.

At the centre of the dispute is the right for workers to negotiate their own terms and conditions. Contractor UGL, which is part of the Spanish-owned CIMIC Group, arranged for a sham agreement to be voted up by 5 casual workers in Western Australia, and then applied it to the Victorian workforce on a take-it-or-leave it basis.

The workers, some of whom have worked on Esso’s platforms for upwards of 40 years, are members of the ETU, AMWU and AWU.

In her address to family members and supporters from the three unions - as well as supporters from the RTBU, HACSU, AEU, IEU, CFMMEU and United Voice - Sally McManus said the workers were heroes for fighting so strongly for so long.

“When earthquakes happen, they don’t just come out of the blue, they don’t happen without warning. They happen after years and years of pressure and build up and jolts,” she said.

“That’s how I see this dispute, that’s how I see these guys here, because you’re not just a tremor — you are a really big jolt.

“I’ll tell you what you have achieved. You have taken the issue of corporate tax avoidance to another level. You have put it on the national agenda, you have taken it to Canberra. At every single place I go to and talk about ExxonMobil, everyone boos. That would not have happened if were not for your bravery, your courage and your principles.”

“We will change the rules so that companies like Esso, UGL and ExxonMobil can no longer cut people’s pay, fire people and force people into unfair and insecure work.”

Vanessa Britton is a family member of a sacked Esso-UGL worker. She told the crowd that Australians had a right to decide our own terms and conditions, including how long we work for, and for what wages.

“Surely it’s our right to be treated with respect? Our boys work hard and safely. UGL won the Esso contract on the back of the hard work of my husband Mick and his workmates. They have given the company everything, and this is how they’re repaid.”

Labor’s Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations and Rural and Regional Australia, Lisa Chesters, told the rally the party believed that collective bargaining should not be able to be undermined by sham enterprise agreements like the one used by UGL.

She said a Shorten Labor government will change the law to end this corporate gaming of the Fair Work Act.

The dispute, which includes a round-the-clock picket outside Esso’s gas plant, is now the longest industrial dispute in Australia in 43 years. Only the Wave Hill Walk Off, which began in 1966 and lasted nine years, has gone longer. The Walk Off occurred when Aboriginal stockmen of the Gurindji people walked off the Wave Hill Station near Darwin to campaign for wage justice and protest the treatment of Aboriginal people.