Seafarers in the offshore oil and gas industry demand equal pay
MUA seafarers employed in the multi-billion dollar offshore oil and gas industry took industrial action over summer demanding equal pay for equal work on support vessels in the offshore construction jobs and a 30 per cent pay rise over four years, winning a heads of agreement with major employers in February.
“This is a crucial agreement for the industry,” MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin told DCN/Lloyds List. “The bones [of the agreement] are the measured and reasonable wage increases and payment of a Project Allowance Bonus for workers on construction projects, which moves with wage increases from January 1. The allowance will be paid at the completion of construction projects. “We fought hard for this payment which now brings maritime workers closer to parity with other workers, like riggers, doing exactly the same task on those projects.” The EBAs will vary from employer to employer but the principle will remain.
But the victory did not come easily. Around 400 workers employed by Farstad and Total Marine Services vessels servicing the Northwest Shelf, Timor Sea and Bass Strait voted to take protected action in November, the first industrial action since the oil and gas fields were established.
It came after 12 months of unsuccessful negotiations and 10 months after their enterprise agreements had already expired. At the centre of the dispute was wage parity. ‘I’m currently working offshore 12 hours a day, 28 days straight on $296 a day and I hold 26 certificates directly required for my job,” one MUA member wrote to The Australian daily. “The guy next to me is a rigger. He has two tickets – dogman’s and advanced rigging. He gets $1,400 a day. When he isn’t on board I do the rigging.
The union initially argued for a $500 allowance to apply to MUA seafarers on construction projects in the offshore industry, closing with modest $175-$215 claims. The claim was to achieve wage parity with workers on existing agreements such as the Brunel Technical Services at the Pluto offshore construction project agreement where MUA seafarers were working alongside other workers, including cooks and riggers on more than $1,000 per day, (see overleaf)
But employers backed by hard line Australian Mines and Metal Association and the Australian Chamber of Commerce used the MUA claim to test the new FairWork laws, calling for government intervention and arguing the industrial action should be outlawed and the wage claims were ‘outrageous’.
The irony of employer groups representing executives on $6 and $8m salaries arguing against offshore workers earning over $100,000 was not lost on MUA members. (see opposite). Or that the very same employer groups had introduced the high wage packages to lure people onto individual contracts and into the industry during a skills shortage.
The Australian Shipowners’ Association also bought into the media debate arguing that the pay hikes would flow onto the blue water shipping industry and price Australian ships out of the market. This was despite the union simultaneously negotatiating enterprise agreements for coastal ships with relatively modest pay claims.
Also buying into the dispute was the Murdoch media with ACCI, AMMA given widespread coverage on news and opinion pages and the union battling to even get a letter published as right of reply. (Beating up the MUA, see opposite, Truths and Lies, see overleaf) “We’ve moderated our claims right though these negotiations,” said Mick Doleman, Deputy National Secretary of the MUA. “We would have liked to avoid these actions but our members felt they did not have an alternative to seek a fair outcome.”
The MUA seafarers had the solidarity of New Zealand seafarers with MUNZ general secretary Joe Fleetwood arguing in the media that “striking workers wages were spent in working class communities, while employers made vast fortunes in profits. “This is about workers getting their share of the wealth they create,” he said. “After all, they do the work out on the remote rigs and vessels in risky heavy industrial environment. Australian worker have the full support of maritime workers around the world.