Australian jobs and foreign workers' rights could be at risk aboard ships laying pipes for the $43 billion Gorgon project unions claimed at a rally today, amid growing debate over foreign workers sparked by Hancock Prospecting's decision to use more than a thousand on the Roy Hills project.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) members gathered outside Western Australia's parliament today opposing a recent court decision, in what appeared to be a warning shot as union leaders threatened to close down the city's main street in the coming weeks if more was not done to protect Australian workers.
The Maritime Union of Australia is also rallying political support to close a legislative "loop hole", which enabled a Perth Federal Court judge to deem foreign workers on Gorgon contractor vessels outside of the migration zone, and therefore without a need for Australian visas.
Justice Neil McKerracher in the Federal Court in Perth said he was satisfied that Swiss contracter Allseas' ships, Lorelay and Solitaire, were not "resources installations" under the Migration Act, in a May 18 decision.
Although the court's decision only applied to the two specific vessels while they are building the project under contract to Chevron, the Maritime Workers Union believes the decision could signal the way for other labour-strapped resource companies.
About 300 unionists pooled outside the QV1 building on St Georges Terrace today before marching up to the steps of parliament house.
Allseas originally took the Minister for Immigration to court seeking a declaration the foreign crew members of the pipe laying vessels were not at risk of detention working on the offshore project without visas.
Allseas barrister Richard Hooker previously told the court his client did not want to put all of its workers on 457 visas because then they would be forced to pay them at Australian rates, which would have been a considerably higher.
Calling on the Federal Government to amend the legislation, Mr Cain said the decision had stripped foreign workers of Australian workplace standards and put Allseas' Australian workers at risk of losing their jobs to cheaper counterparts.
Mr Cain said the WA branch had secured the full support of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and foreign workers movements overseas in its calls for amendments to the Migration Act.
"The loophole should be closed so that no foreign company can come into the country and exploit foreign workers at the expense of Australian jobs," Mr Cain said.
"We're going to fight them right to the bitter end on this."
It is understood MUA federal secretary Paddy Crumlin met with Immigration Minister Chris Bowen to discuss the implications of the ruling last week.
Addressing today's rally Mr Cain said Hancock Prospecting's Gina Rinehart had also become a union target over her company's decision to secure an enterprise migration agreement, which would bring 1700 foreign workers onto the Roy Hill project in the Pilbara.
"We're going to fight you and everyone like you," Mr Cain shouted.
"Next time we come here we'll be coming with our families, with our communities, with the indigenous communities and with the public as well because this is a blue that we're going to win, this is a blue for all Australians.
"If we've got to close this industry down we're going to do that."
However at a Fair Work summit speech at Sydney today, Australian Mines and Metals Association chief Steve Knott accused unions of fear mongering over the use of foreign labour by resources companies, using untrue and simplistic arguments, according to reports.