After two years picketing outside this gas plant, workers may finally go back inside
A protest by Victorian oil and gas workers over pay and conditions at Esso’s offshore operations has come to an end more than 700 days after workers first set up a picket line at the company’s Longford gas plant, in the state’s east.
- The deal has been struck 742 days after the industrial action began
- The details of the agreement are secret, but unions had been advocating for a better wage offer
- A union representative has said some workers may not go back to Esso
The protest camp was established in 2017 after more than 200 angry maintenance workers refused to sign a new workplace agreement with Esso’s maintenance subcontractor, UGL, and its subsidiary MTCT Services.
Unions labelled the agreement a “sham contract” because it was signed by five people in Western Australia who were not offshore workers at the time.
It slashed the pay of the Victorian workers by up to 40 per cent, based on union calculations, and reduced annual leave and other conditions.
Many of the workers who refused to sign up have been out of work since.
A new agreement between the unions and the company has brought what became one of the country’s longest running industrial disputes in half a century to a close.
The details of that agreement are subject to a strict confidentiality clause.
A sign at the picket line kept track of how long the dispute had been running. (ABC News: Sarah Maunder)
Australian Workers Union Victorian branch secretary Ben Davis said he expected some of the protesters would now be able to return to work with a better wage offer.
“They were all ex-employees, so the issue isn’t so much whether they got the 40 per cent pay cut back but can and will some of them get to go back to work,” Mr Davis said.
“After a long and hard dispute there are always compromises involved. This is no exception. But we’re really proud of what they’ve done.”
‘Easier to start disputes than finish them’
The workers are reportedly celebrating the dispute’s end at the camp on Friday night before it was dismantled.
The camp initially consisted a few fire pits and some tents.
Over two years it grew to include a camp kitchen and accommodation inside shipping containers, painted with union murals, and caravans, swags and tents.
The picket line was under regular surveillance, with people wielding long-lens cameras monitoring the camp at different times.
Mr Davis was satisfied the unions had managed to get the best deal they could for the workers, but acknowledged that some would choose not to go back to work for the company.
“It’s often easier to start disputes than finish them, and this one has gone on for a really long time,” he said.
“On this day it’s a very simple message to Esso and UGL — never again put a workforce through what these guys have been through for two years. Never again.
“We’re seeing more and more evidence that our industrial relations system isn’t working and the UGL dispute is the perfect example of that.”
The Australian Manufacturers Workers Union said a common-sense approach ended the long-running dispute.
“The efforts of many people over an extensive period of time are responsible for bringing the parties together to reach this agreement and end this dispute.”
The Electrical Trades Union thanked the union members who spent two years supporting the protest.
“The parties have agreed to a number of issues relating to ending the dispute and to re-establish a constructive working relationship for the benefit of all parties,” the ETU said.