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AWU to fight for workers through Esso’s decommissioning and transition

November 14, 2022

Almost 60 years after the first oil and gas was discovered in Bass Strait the end is nigh, as the wells off Victoria’s Gippsland coast run dry or become uneconomic.

But with Esso Australia well advanced in planning for the decommissioning, dismantling or limited repurposing of its rigs, and for future energy projects, it’s essential that union members play a big part on the process.

An Esso/BHP joint venture drilled Australia’s first offshore well in 1965 and found the Barracouta gas field in Bass Strait. Two years later Kingfish was discovered, the first offshore oil field. It remains Australia’s largest oil field.

These, and other subsequent world-class discoveries in Bass Strait, powered Australia’s industry and economy for half a century, but Esso is now just two years from closing all its Bass strait offshore facilities.

Its crude oil reserves are nearly depleted, and production is significantly down, with only six of an original 14 platforms operational.

AWU National Secretary Daniel Walton says the union wants to ensure a continued role for Esso members as the rigs close, including negotiating with the company for a new four-year enterprise agreement to achieve that.

“It’s vital that AWU members continue the vital role they have played for decades,” Mr Walton says.

“The decommissioning phase will be huge as platforms move from operational to maintenance requirements. There will still be preservation needed.

“We will be fighting to ensure these projects will involve AWU members, not contractors, and our members remain employed for as long as possible.”

“And as Esso transitions to hydrogen and carbon capture in the future, the AWU will ensure it’s our members who remain on those final platforms.”

“The AWU is the union for workers on hydrogen projects, and they deserve decent pay and conditions for their hard work.”

Esso plans to leave one or two platforms open to run CO2 capture and support hydrogen energy manufacturing. The other 12 platforms will to be decommissioned from 2025, with the first removed by 2027.

It is also partnering with Air Liquide to examine producing commercial CO2 and food-grade CO2.

Mr Walton says achieving a new EA will be difficult, as there has been no movement for nearly 10 years.

“Esso has shown little inclination to cooperate in the past. We are still negotiating for an agreement, a process that has been going on since 2014.

“Esso has proven extremely difficult to deal with and the relationship between employer and its employees is fraught.”

The AWU, along with the AMWU and ETU, had a big win in 2020 when Esso tried to terminate an existing EA in the Fair Work Commission.

The unions won their case, and Esso lost its subsequent appeal, but AWU members have been banned from taking protected industrial action.

“This was a huge win, but the ban on taking industrial action makes further negotiations extremely difficult.

“But a new EA is now long overdue. There are Esso workers on these rigs who are coming up for long service leave but have never had a pay rise.”

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