Esso’s Longford labour hire dispute is still on

Protest camp outside Esso gas plant
Contributed from Victoria

The union dispute at Esso’s Longford gas plant in Gippsland (Victoria), has been on for weeks and from the worker and union side, the determination to maintain their a presence outside the plant until for a breakthrough, remains as strong as ever.

Esso’s plant services the company’s offshore facilities and platforms in Bass Strait.

A dispute arose, after management told its workers that they had to sign up with MTCT Services, which is a labour hire subsidiary of UGL. This meant the prospect of being re-employed on lower wages and inferior conditions.

An organiser with the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) said:

“They’re offering the guys their jobs back but with pay cuts of between 15 per cent and 30 per cent.”

Members of the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union are also involved in the dispute.

Esso is owned by the world’s biggest oil company, the American based Exxon Mobil. This is the sixth biggest company in the world.

About 200 face the loss of their jobs and for those that remain, in addition to a lower pay rate, there would be new two week fly-in, fly-out rosters in the new system, replacing the current one week in, one week out rosters. The concern is that this will have a big negative impact on family life.

There is also a reduction of allowances, including less annual leave loading.

The Esso offer was not accepted and this led to a dispute.

Esso used a legal loophole to try and bring in the contract labour system by suggesting that employees of the contractor in Western Australia had voted for it. Technically, they only need three people to do so. Thus, the situation was set to put pressure on those working at Longford on a one to one basis.

This dispute is like the CUB dispute in Melbourne last year that resulted in a more than 6-month standoff. Management had tried to impose a similar labour hire system. Widespread support for the CUB workers and loss of sales eventually forced the company to back down. And when those who had been on the picket returned to worked they did so under the old collective agreement and on better conditions.

Being another test case for major corporations, to lift the use of labour hire firms as a source of cheap labour, means that this dispute also has wider ramifications.

The battle at Esso could be building up to be the next CUB.

In line with this, the union strategy is to build the base of wider union and community support.

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