Workers unite to take on wage-slashing gas giant

Unions are gearing up for a major campaign against gas giant Esso and its contractor, UGL, as evidence emerges that 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 ETU, AMWU and 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.

Legal tricks

Secretary Troy Gray says he is 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, which doesn’t pay any tax in Australia, 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, 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 just 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.

Troy said, “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 same gas and making them millions. It’s the same shareholders profiting – they’ve just found a sneaky, underhanded way to cut wages.”

“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 for the area, 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.

He said there would be a flowon effect to the entire Gippsland community at a time when there has been unprecedented job losses in the region.

“These workers have worked tirelessly for this company for many years, helping Esso produce record profits through their hard work and dedication to keep 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.

Steve said the writing had to be on the wall for this sort behaviour by corporates.

“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,” Steve said.

First extreme conditions, now an anti-family roster

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.

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 members work one week on, and one week off. Under the new arrangement it could be five weeks on, one week off.

Local ETU organiser Peter Mooney said Bass Strait workers face difficult, cramped living conditions on the platforms, where accommodation was built in the 1970s. Peter said it wasn’t easy to be away from family for a week at a time, and much more time away from home would put strain on families.

Peter said the three unions are now rolling out a major campaign to challenge Esso and UGL to stop using legal tricks to cut workers’ wages.

“We will blow the whistle very loudly on this UGLY deal. And we will win.”

“The Australian people have had a gutful of gas companies. They rip off consumers. They rip off the taxpayer. Now they’re trying to rip off workers and our families. They won’t be getting away with this” – Troy Gray.