Australian Offshore Workers Still Stranded in Bass Strait

About 30 Australian Workers' Union members had been stranded offshore after enterprise bargaining talks broke down between offshore construction workers and contractors.

Despite written and verbal requests from AWU members to Esso, the company had denied their requests to be flown by helicopter back to the mainland. The members were scheduled to return to shore on the morning of Wednesday August 21st. AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten said the AWU members were in their tenth consecutive day on the Bass Strait rig and the company's failure to return them to land posed a health and safety risk.

Mr. Shorten said the EBA talks broke down after contractors encouraged by Esso sought to extend the roster pattern from seven days on and seven days off to 14 days on, 14 days off. "Esso is seeking to cut air fuel costs at the expense of our members safety and family lives." Mr Shorten said Esso workers lived locally and Bass Strait was one of the closest platforms to land in the world. "Under these circumstances forcing workers on to a 14 day roster cycle instead of a seven day roster is grossly unfair to workers and their families."

Following a mass meeting earlier this week at the Gippsland Esso Heliport, construction contractors will return to work. Esso has also indicated its willingness to be involved in a forum with the Australian Workers Union (AWU) and other Esso unions at the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) on later this week.

The forum, at a time to be set, will involve unions including the AWU, Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU), Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), Electrical Trades Union (ETU) and Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU) and will focus on the roster issue at the heart of the dispute, which is now in its sixth day. Esso and its contractors are seeking - against workers' wishes - to change the seven days on, seven days off roster to a 14-day on, 14 day off cycle.

AWU National Secretary Bill Shorten said the 14-day cycle was completely unacceptable to workers and would result in less pay and less family time. Mr. Shorten said Esso workers lived locally and Bass Strait was one of the closest platforms to land in the world. "Under these circumstances forcing workers on to a 14 day roster cycle instead of a seven day roster is grossly unfair to workers and their families."

At this week's mass meeting, the construction workers agreed to return to work not the least because they disapproved of Esso's tactics, which stranded Esso employees for 12 days offshore. "The construction workers were not prepared to let Esso continue to take its offshore workforce hostage," Mr. Shorten said. "We demand that Esso fly the stranded workers home immediately," he said.

Mr. Shorten also criticized Esso for acting hysterically by stating that gas supplies were threatened because of the industrial action. "Five years ago Esso blamed individual workers for the fatal explosion which cut off gas supplies despite the Royal Commission finding the company at fault; unfortunately today Esso appears to have learned nothing and is once again attempting to blame workers. We totally reject this claim, it is an act of mischief by Esso," Mr. Shorten said.

He said the ACTU forum would be an opportunity for Esso to end future industrial disharmony by abandoning the 14-day roster proposition.
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