Hundreds of union members and supporters made the trek to the ExxonMobil (ESSO)/UGL Longford Gasworks on June 28 to mark the first anniversary of an ongoing industrial dispute.
Unionists from across the state attended. There were contingents from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Workers Union — the three main unions in the dispute.
Members of the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union, Health and Community Services Union, Australian Services Union, Independent Education Union, Victorian Allied Health Professionals Association, United Voice and the Australian Education Union were also there in numbers.
The rally coincided with a shift change-over. Before 6am, strikebreakers were escorted into the gasworks by state police and hired private investigators, in buses with blacked-out windows.
The ESSO/UGL Longford dispute has been the longest industrial stop work action in Australia for several decades.
After UGL successfully completed a 7-year contract for ESSO and won a further 7-year contract last year, it set up a subsidiary company called MTCT Services. UGL then sacked the entire ESSO workforce and the next day, MTCT Services offered those sacked workers their jobs back on a new agreement agreed to by five people in Western Australia.
The new agreement, which the unions describe as a “sham agreement”, would slash the workers’ pay by 30-50% as well as cut their annual leave, significant allowances and shift loadings.
The agreement includes harsh “anti-family” rosters that would mean that workers are away from home for up to five weeks at a time, with as little as a week off in between. It also has stand down clauses, which require employees to perform unpaid work.
ESSO’s undercutting of workers’ wages and conditions comes despite the fact that the company has paid zero corporate tax since the current federal government came to power in 2013.
Addressing the rally outside the Longford Gas Plant, Australian Council of Trade Unions Secretary Sally McManus likened the ESSO dispute to an “earthquake”.
“When earthquakes happen they don’t just come out of the blue, they happen after years and years of pressure. Before a great earthquake, there are always tremors and jolts. That is how I see this dispute. Because you’re not just a tremor, you’re a really big jolt.”
McManus also proclaimed that ESSO workers “putting the issue of corporate tax avoidance” on the agenda was one of their greatest achievements over the last year.
“You’ve taken the issue not just to another level, but to three other levels. Every single place I go to and talk about it and talk about ExxonMobil, everyone boos. That would not have happened if it were not for your bravery, courage and principles.
“[You have also] taken the Change the Rules campaign to another level. Because of your brave stand, it has meant the issue of not being able to negotiate with the real decision maker [is on the agenda].
“In the end, it’s ExxonMobil who makes the decisions ... you should be able to bargain with them. Why shouldn’t we be able to bargain with them?”
“It takes brave people to take a stand, because change doesn’t just happen by sitting back and waiting. Change happens by people making change. Multinationals are doing bad stuff every single day to working people. [Working people] are seeing the bravery of the trade union movement. Who is standing up to multinationals? We are.”
“As far as I am concerned, you are heroes.”