Over 500 people descended on Longford, Victoria outside the Esso gas plant to mark one year since the company and their contractor UGL sacked 230 maintenance workers after they refused 30-40% pay cuts and a new anti-family roster.
At the centre of the dispute is the right for workers to negotiate their own terms and conditions. UGL arranged for a sham agreement to be voted up by 5 casual workers in Western Australia, and then applied it to the Victorian workforce on a take-it-or-leave it basis.
The workers, some of whom have worked on Esso’s platforms for upwards of 40 years, are members of the ETU, AMWU and AWU.
Their dispute, which includes a round-the-clock picket outside Esso’s gas plant, is today over 365 days old, making it the longest industrial dispute in Australia in 43 years. Only the Wave Hill Walk Off, which began in 1966 and lasted nine years, has gone longer. The Walk Off occurred when Aboriginal stockmen of the Gurindji people walked off the Wave Hill Station near Darwin to campaign for wage justice and protest the treatment of Aboriginal people.
Addressing the families and supporters are ACTU Secretary Sally McManus, AWU State Secretary Ben Davis and Labor’s Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations Lisa Chesters. Attendees will also hear from sacked fitter Troy Carter and Vanessa Britton, the partner of sacked worker Mick.
Quotes attributable to ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus:
“For one year people in this region have been standing up to a brutal multi-national corporation that has too much power.”
“They have endured a year of struggle. They’ve paid a huge price for standing up against injustice. But they have stood firm.”
“People in this community are a vital part of the movement to change the rules so we can have fair pay and more secure jobs.
“We can and will change the rules so that companies like Esso, UGL and ExxonMobil can no longer cut people’s pay, fire people and force people into unfair and insecure work.”
Quotes attributable to Shadow Assistant Minister for Workplace Relations and Rural and Regional Australia, Lisa Chesters:
“These workers do a highly skilled and demanding job. They are the people who repair the scaffolding, the rigging, the cranage, the people who make sure that the gas supplies can reliably flow to Victoria and south eastern Australia.”
“Labor believes that collective bargaining should not be able to be undermined by sham enterprise agreements, which is exactly what has happened here – ExxonMobil and contractor UGL, attempted to rehire 200 workers at a 30 per cent pay cut. Because these workers said no, they have now been out of work for 12 months.”
“A Shorten Labor Government will change the law to end this corporate gaming of the Fair Work Act. Malcolm Turnbull and his Liberal Government should adopt Labor’s proposal and move quickly to introduce this change to the Fair Work Act.”
“Malcom Turnbull and his out of touch Liberal government should join Labor and our calls to end intractable disputes.”
Quotes attributable to sacked fitter and AMWU delegate Troy Carter:
“365 days is a massive sacrifice but it’s a bigger sacrifice on our families and our children.”
“People will say ‘you’ve got a choice, you don’t have to be here’. But we don’t feel there’s a choice. They pushed us into a position where we either had to walk away, or fight for what is the right thing to do.”
“If we let this go, if we didn’t stand up, as hard as it’s been – what message does that send? This is a battle for everyone.”
Quotes attributable to Vanessa Britton, family member of a sacked Esso/UGL worker:
“In Australia you are supposed to have a say in how long you work for, and for what wages. Surely it’s our right to be treated with respect?”
“Our boys work hard and safely. UGL won the Esso contract on the back of the hard work of my husband Mick and his workmates. They have given the company everything and this is how they’re repaid.”
“It’s been a hard year. Esso/Exxon is a giant, and they’ve been very tough to go up against. They are throwing everything at us. But to be honest with you, I don’t think Esso expected us to be this hard to go up against, either.”