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Big win at Monadelphous signals a bright new future for Oil & Gas workers

January 20, 2020

Offshore oil workers employed by Monadelphous have received an immediate pay rise of up to 28% and conversion from casual to permanent contracts in a historic AWU EBA victory.

Over 180 technicians working on platforms across Western Australia are covered by the new agreement. The technicians are members of the Offshore Alliance, a partnership between the AWU and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

The lowest-paid workers will have their annual pay increased from $145,000 to $184,000, and electrical workers will be paid between $203,000 and $230,000. The agreement also includes paid training, and 130 members have been offered permanent employment.

“This is one of the single biggest Australian union wins of the century,” said AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton. “Workers at Monadelphous, like most workers in the oil and gas industry, were not receiving what their labour was worth. We’ve fixed that with this agreement.”

Organisers hope that the win can be replicated across other offshore operators, and that workers will look to Monadelphous as an example of what can be achieved when members come together to fight for their rights.

The Campaign

OA organisers flagged the upcoming EBA expiration date in November 2018, and developed a campaign around lifting industry standards. As a large player in the sector, Monadelphous has a long history of undercutting industry contracts, and lowering employment standards across the offshore sector.

But the Alliance set out to change that for the better. The first challenge was to unionise an oil field with only 4 existing members, and then to identify key members who could become delegates and assist the campaign.

David*, one of the early delegates, prepared himself for a long, hard slog when the campaign began in late 2018. “We were just going into the office every break and chipping away,” he says, “getting the feel for the people, the membership, what members we could have.”

At Monadelphous, technicians worked mostly on a casual basis, and the initial conditions offered by employers included just a baseline wage increased tied to the CPI. When workers realised what was at stake with the new EBA, they began to take notice.

Another delegate, John*, said the negotiations had captured everyone’s attention. “It was all we talked about at break times, and after work,” he said. “Everyone was interested.”

Delegates looked to the mining sector as both an inspiration and a warning. Workers in similar roles suffered from aggressive employer deunionisation as wages stagnated and casualisation crept in amongst the workforce. Knowing that union busting mining employers would target known union members – the team stuck together and found strength in numbers.

“We took a collective approach,” John says. “A lot of us became reps so the company could not just target one or two people.”

Over the course of 14 negotiations, David, John, and the team of delegates worked to build up the membership, one by one. Campaigning started in earnest in the New Year, and continued for six months.

“I thought we would only get to about 70%, but we for to 100% on our platform with the OA and ETU. We were stoked.” Delegates kept it simple, David adds. “Look after our swing, our platform. You look after your own site, and we’ll come together when it comes close.”

Negotiations stagnated, and the employers refused to fly a number of delegates off-site to attend bargaining meetings. With the expiry date looming, the team made the decision to take protected action.

“We waited for choppers and boats, when it would have the most effect,” David recalls. “It was held professionally and legally.” Although there were restrictions to the action, as the platform had to remain operational at all time, members held firm. “None of them broke the lines.”

“I was actually quite excited going into protected action,” John adds. “It was good to see everyone standing together.”

In one of the hardest sectors to organise, members at Monadelphous managed to create a union from practically nothing to full density in just over six months.

What made the Offshore Alliance so successful on a worksite where other campaigns had fizzled out?

In early 2019, membership amongst Monadelphous workers was sparse and scattered between the AMWU, the AWU, the MUA and the CFMEU. “They didn’t have a place to belong to,” David says.

He credits the launch of the Offshore Alliance on-site for bringing people together under a common flag. “It was the perfect timing to capture everything into that one union. Everyone got involved.”

Having the breadth of coverage, creating a new union of workers covered under the MUA and the AWU, and building that collective action, was a massive opportunity. But what really drove success home, David believes, is the way the Offshore Alliance has worked with members on his platform. “We’ve got an organiser who is so thorough,” he says. “His door is always open, and we encourage boys to go in there and have the conversation.”

To John, the victory at Monadelphous shows the importance of collective action. “If you don’t have a union, these companies will walk all over you and push you into working for virtually nothing.”

David agrees. “I don’t care if you’re a teacher, or nurse, whatever – you should join a union,” he says firmly.

*Names have been changed to protect the identity of the delegates involved.

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