Shell workers' dispute heats up

March 21, 2010

Victorian fuel supplies could be threatened if agreement is not reached in an industrial dispute between Shell and tanker drivers at its Newport depot.

The 36 drivers, who are covered by the Australian Workers Union (AWU), met on March 15 and voted to reject Shell's pay offer. They will apply for protected industrial action through Fair Work Australia.

Negotiations with Shell over the new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) had been going for two weeks when the company announced the drivers would be made redundant and their jobs contracted out.

AWU organiser Sam Wood asked Shell to guarantee that if the jobs were contracted out, the drivers would be offered re-employment. The answer from Shell was a firm "no", Wood told Green Left Weekly.

Wood said this showed Shell was not bargaining in good faith. One of the demands put forward by the drivers was to raise the redundancy provisions in the agreement to industry standards.

The drivers' current EBA gave workers a maximum of 26 weeks' pay if they were made redundant. This was well below the Victorian oil industry standard of 120 weeks redundancy pay.

The current EBA was negotiated by the Transport Workers Union. Dissatisfied with the agreement, the drivers swapped to the AWU during the course of the EBA.

Wood pointed out the dishonesty of the company in responding to the drivers' push for parity with industry standards by announcing that their jobs would be contracted out.

"Will this become normal? Negotiate your EBA and have your job contracted out?"

Shell has also interfered with the union. The notice for one of the drivers' union meetings was removed from the notice board, allegedly by company staff. When GLW contacted Shell spokesperson Paul Zennaro, he denied knowledge of the notice removal.

He said the decision to contract jobs out was a part of a business review. Zennaro said the drivers would be paid their redundancy above the government's minimum standards and that the company would have no say in who future contractors would hire.

The union responded saying part of the condition of sale could be that the contractor agree to re-employ the workers.

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