MUA National Council October 2017 – Offshore Report

Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey reports that for 5 years now the MUA has been engaged in a bitter struggle for the rights of MUA seafaring members to continue to work in the Australian offshore oil and gas industry. 

We have been attacked relentlessly by the Federal Liberal Government, the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA) and various employers throughout this period who assisted in the attack by putting out non-union agreements to their workforce. At one stage the equivalent of 70% of the workers offshore had been offered a non-union agreement by their employer. This struggle at times looked impossible as we fought on multiple fronts in the pursuit of our rightful place in Australia’s most lucrative industry.  

Finally, this long and complex 5 year battle is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel – our legal right to work in the industry defended, MUA ‘Job Security’ Agreements being closed out and many of our members now finding work in their industry again as the strategic Australian jobs compacts with major offshore players do their work. 


Over the last five years our membership in the offshore have seen off the following concerted and co-ordinated attacks:


  • 11 non-union agreements thrown at them, all voted down after intensive MUA campaigns despite the officers and engineers disappointingly voting some of them up;
  • 3 CUB type agreements voted up by small groups of workers that we knocked off after industrial and legal campaigns running all the way through to three separate Fair Work Full Bench hearings;
  • 2 Federal Court challenges (one a Full Bench Appeal) and 2 High Court challenges to prevent the Federal Government from removing our right to work in the offshore after they tried to exclude us from Australia’s migration zone and therefore our legitimate right to work in the industry;
  • Attempts by the Federal Government to dismantle and abolish our workers compensation system under Seacare requiring a strategic legal and lobbying defensive campaign to fight to maintain a fair workers comp system for offshore workers.


Many will still be celebrating the historic legal win in the High Court this time last year by the MUA as we saw off the Federal Government’s attempts to remove our right to work in the Australian offshore industry.


And after seeing off the many non-union and CUB type agreements we can now report that many of the offshore companies have approached us for MUA “Job Security” Agreements without the involvement of industry and employer representative AMMA. Over the last year the MUA has been working hard to close out the offshore agreements and lock in the “Job Security” provisions we have been campaigning so hard for.


The MUA now has “Job Security” offshore agreements with 16 major offshore operators.


Each of these company specific standalone agreements required a heap of time and resources as we have had to negotiate separately with each individual employer and the respective company delegates over many months with many of those meetings being facilitated inside Fair Work through either s240 applications or within the Interest Based Bargaining framework. The campaign has also involved 7 separate applications and hearings for protected industrial action ballots. We note that nearly half of these went to appeal before the Full Bench of Fair Work as well as a successful Federal Court hearing to defend our right to take industrial action in support of our claims around job security and the like.


We can also report that we are in active ongoing discussions with another 8 offshore companies which are at various stages of negotiations - all of which look like landing an MUA “Job Security” offshore agreement shortly.


We now see less than a handful of offshore operators who are hostile to an MUA “Job Security” offshore agreement and who are being represented by AMMA through the process. All but one of the agreements we have landed so far have been done without the involvement of AMMA.


The most critical outcome of the significant work that has gone into the offshore EA campaign over the last 5 years, and especially the last 12 months since the MUA High Court win, is that over 85% of the offshore will be covered by an MUA “Job Security” offshore agreement.


To give a clear understanding of the “Job Security” provisions we fight so hard for we need to highlight the redundancy dispute with Farstad. Farstad notified 85 of our members that they were being forcibly made redundant after they voted down Farstad’s attempted non-union agreement. We used the redundancy clause we secured in the original Farstad agreement to fight to prevent the forced redundancies – the court cases went through Fair Work right way to an appeal before the Full Bench and we won. Not one MUA member at Farstad was forced into redundancy through the MUA legal campaign enforcing a key “Job Security” provision. At the same time we won our legal battle the other unions were notified of forced redundancies with no “Job Security” provisions to defend those jobs.


Another critical part of our campaign to secure our jobs has been the Australian Jobs compact with major offshore players like Inpex. We are finally starting to see some activity on the Inpex project and various other project work off our coast. And the signed commitment to Australian jobs through the MUA/company compacts has meant increasing work for our members.


This means that many of our unemployed members are coming off the database. Since May we have seen more than half of the members on the database find work in the offshore and this figure is much higher for our catering membership.


For reasons I don’t understand there has been some rubbish written about the Inpex Jobs Compact MOU, in particular, which has absolutely no basis in fact. The Inpex MOU was based on the highly successful North West Shelf agreement that still continues, after nearly 35 years operation, to provide good stable international bluewater jobs for around 130 to 150 Australian seafarers. The Inpex MOU is based on support for the jobs of Australian MUA seafarers, funding for enhanced skills training, indigenous training programs and union collective agreements across the massive Inpex project in return for the use of an alternate dispute procedure that sits outside the national industrial relations framework to ensure a dedicated arbitrator and resources to work through disputes as they arise. If the job is unsafe then work will stop. For the many hundreds of seafarers who are now working on that project and others after long periods of unemployment the agreements we have made here is something the Union proudly supports – as we have done with the North West Shelf agreement.


Most importantly – before the Inpex MOU was signed off on by the MUA it was unanimously endorsed at single every meeting that was held in every Branch by the Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey and National President Chris Cain over a period of 12 weeks. These meetings were held at the direction of the MUA National Council. Each of these presentations went for 3 to 4 hours and went into great detail on the Offshore campaign broadly and the Inpex agreement specifically. Rank and file members of this Union voted unanimously to direct their union to sign off on the Inpex agreement. The criticism of the agreement is a really clumsy attempt to undermine the informed democratic decisions of our Rank and File around an historic outcome that is directly responsible for delivering hundreds and hundreds of jobs for MUA members.


The cancer of unemployment has hit our industry hard in recent years. There is not one official of this Union who doesn’t carry with them every day the burden of trying to do what we can to get our members working because of the debilitating impact unemployment has on our members and their families.


Amongst everything else that is happening currently this jobs campaign has been a key priority for the National and Branch leadership of the MUA. Because of the support and endorsement of the Rank and File, this National and Branch leadership campaign to deliver hundreds and hundreds of jobs for MUA seafarers has been highly successful. This Union stands by this Inpex agreement, and the North West Shelf agreement for Woodside, and would do it again if it meant delivering more jobs for our seafaring membership.


Now that we are securing and finalising the MUA “Job Security” agreements across the industry we have moved our attention to a focus on increased manning in specific circumstances.


In the last 12 months since the 2016 National Council meeting the results of securing the offshore industry through the High Court case, MUA “Job Security” Enterprise Agreements and Australian Job compacts with major industry players is now flowing through to our membership. It occurred because of the tireless work of many MUA officials and delegates and an organised membership who remained disciplined and focused as we fought for our future.


The results we have achieved are set against the backdrop of:

  • the increasing use of foreign labour under s400 visas by employers predominantly in the AMOU, AMWU and AIMPE areas of work;
  • complaints by the AMOU and AIMPE that they have hundreds of their members out of work while twice that number of foreign seafarers are working on the coast under the s457 visa classification,
  • the AWU has complained about the use of a Labour Migration Agreement to replace their members jobs with international workers on the Inpex CPR facility;
  • the government has tried to extend the use of temporary licensing arrangements into segments of the offshore oil and gas industry;
  • it is reported weekly that our members are sailing on offshore vessels where the compliment of Australia officers and engineers is less than half the crew.

The MUA continues to lobby and put in submissions to Senate Committees on these issues above as part of our broader campaign for job security in the offshore industry for our membership and the members of other unions.


When you look at the vicious attacks on many of the industries in this country by this government, various employer associations and the many employers who actively engage in the wholesale removal of Australian jobs and decimation of wages and conditions of those that are left - the results we’ve achieved in the offshore are substantial. We have fought a five-year war of attrition for our industry against the most well organised and resourced right-wing ideologues in this country and won. This alone speaks volumes to the capacity and willingness of the leadership of this Union to fight in the best interests of it’s members. United we fight!