Union Surge

The Maritime Union is growing - up from just over 9000 members in 2003 to just under 12,000 members in 2009 - and most of the growth is in the west

A resources boom has fueled new jobs on the NorthWest Shelf and further north into the Timor Sea creating new work and new members. Darwin Branch has doubled along with the WA branch. 

The WA resources boom in LNG and minerals have both been relatively unaffected by the world recession. And it is now, once more, full steam ahead with Gorgon and other developments – leading to around $200 billion being ploughed into WA in coming years.

The LNG boom is predicted to make Australia the ‘Middle East of gas’.

The joint venture by Chevron, Shell and ExxonMobil is already underpinned by supply contracts with China and India worth more than 60 billion US dollars, with more customers are likely to sign up before it begins operating in 2014.

Gorgon is just one of a clutch of LNG projects planned in the next decade, according to analysts, which will see Australia challenge Qatar as the world's major gas exporter.

The West Australian reports London based Compass Group, one of the biggest labor suppliers, will hire around 250 people a month in WA over the next 6-18 months in anticipation of the Gorgan led boom.

Western Australia is the centre of the LNG boom with three huge gas fields off its northwest coast: the Carnarvon, Browse and Bonaparte basins.

Other gas sources in Australia are Northern Australia, Timor Sea, Gorgon fields and Browse Basis with reserves of 100 trillion cubic feet. With the boom comes jobs in the offshore industry and the union has been hard at work organizing workers coming in.

“It’s unprecedented in our history,” said MUA Deputy National Secretary Mick Doleman. “Thousands of jobs are to come, with the Prime Minister announcing the creation of a National Resource Employment Taskforce in September. Our job is to organise and lobby to make sure they are safe jobs, with training to ensure a highly skilled workforce.

“The MUA has a reputation as an effective and efficient union, renowned for its democracy, providing a voice for workers in an uncertain world,” said National Secretary Paddy Crumln. “Our commitment to the education of workers, our global solidarity links in global industries, our fight for safe jobs, our engagement on the political stage seeking to influence the shape of industries and sustainable jobs is well known. And the union helps to provide services like Credit Union and Super that are attractive to workers and their families. We are the sort of union workers want to belong to.”

In the Northern Territory membership in the once tiny port has doubled to around 300 in 18 months and in the West the strategic MUA offshore alliance with the Australian Workers’ union has netted around 300 new union members, according to MUA lead organizer Bernie Farrelly. The unions have jointly employed two organisers in the region in anticipation of further organizing the influx of workers.

The WA branch has also been organizing hard on the ground, with three organisers on the job. Branch membership is up from just over 1,400 members in 2003 to just over 3,000 in 2009. And the union is confident the surge is only getting bigger. “Unions are back in a big way and they're going to get bigger,”

MUA branch Secretary Chris Cain told The West Australian. Comrade Cain said the branch, which covers 14 ports over 13,000 kilometres is continuing to notch up outstanding growth. “We’re training our delegates, it's a rank and file branch,” he said.

“Over the last few years the growth has been phenomenal,” Chris Cain says in his branch report to council. “The branch has grown nearly 40 per cent in the last two years. We are consistently up around the 3000 mark and with massive projects starting up over the next two years we will certainly grow even further. Not only are we currently 95.44 per cent financial in our membership, we are seeing a big reduction in membership debt.

Other states not enjoying the same protection from the global financial crisis are also holding membership, union coverage and financiality.


As well unions now have right of entry to sites where they were previously banned to talk to workers and recruit – sites where workers were on Australian Workplace Agreements or un-unionised. This was something that was not allowed under the Howard WorkChoices regime.

Employers complained to The West Australian they are being bombarded with unions’ requests to visit sites and that workers did not 'genuinely require' union services.

Newly appointed MUA National Assistant Secretary Ian Bray says the branch pumped up membership from around 1,200 to just under 3,000. Around 1,500 new members come from diving, stevedoring, offshore rigs and facilities and offshore shipping and the remote operational vehicles, which are used in offshore deep sea but driven from on deck.

“The offshore boom has helped,” said Ian. “But the union also played a big role. We made the employers accountable for training up new entrants to get jobs on the ships. Some of these were already our members coming from interstate, but we also saw dozens of trainees get work in the industry. We have had much success but we still have a long way to go.

The offshore boom is creating jobs across the board. “Gorgon will mean new wharves,” he said, “but it’s also down to organising. A few years back only half the stevedoring workers at Patrick, Fremantle were in the union. We went along and said no wonder you got so many issues, the boss took the piss out of you. Why would he listen to you when half of you aren’t in the union.”