UNION members campaigning against new contracts offered to maintenance staff working in Esso’s Bass Strait oil and gas fields have vowed not to let the loss of Scabby the Rat break their campaign.
Within days of agreeing to deflate the symbolic figure because of UGL subsidiary MTCT Services’ legal action, a new artillery in their fight, a fat cat, appeared at the protest camp outside Esso’s Longford plant.
MTCT Services had accused the Australia Workers Union, the Australian Maintenance Workers Union and the Electrical Trades Union of using the rat and picket signs to deter current and prospective employees from working at the plant.
Last Friday, the unions agreed to remove Scabby and not display certain signs pending a final decision from the court, but by Wednesday the fat cat was being installed to bolster their fight.
ETU organiser Peter Mooney said protestors were disappointed that Scabby had to go, but the fight to restore pay and conditions would go on.
He said the cat was not targeting employees who chose to accept the new contracts, but was generally targeting “fat cat greed”.
Mr Mooney said Scabby had survived multiple court cases in the United States, where there are protections under freedom of speech legislation.
“Mr Mooney said recent reports about the amounts earned by maintenance works at the plant were incorrect and misleading.
Australian Mines and Metals Association workplace relations director Amanda Mansini last week said offshore workers would earn $186,000 per year for 22 weeks’ work, for a base trade position.
However, Mr Mooney said those figures were “far from correct” because that included annual leave, superannuation and other expenses, with the amount most offshore workers to receive closer to $120,000.
“If they were offered $186,000, we wouldn’t be here fighting,” he said.
Mr Mooney said it was “misleading” to focus the debate on the earnings of offshore workers, who he said worked long hours over long periods.
He said the fight was more about the excessive power of corporations.
“It’s about the reduced conditions, the lack of negotiation and the precedent the move would set for allowing companies to downgrade previously negotiated wages and conditions,” he said.
Maintenance workers have been picketing Esso’s Longford gas site since June in protest over UGL’s plan to retrench and rehire them with a subsidiary on significantly less pay and a two-week fly-in, fly-out roster.
On Wednesday the ETU said a leaked email it had just received raised questions as to whether local onshore and offshore maintenance jobs would stay with local people.
The union claims a leaked email from a Brisbane-based superintendent from Esso’s contractor, UGL, to prospective workers, outlined ‘opportunities’ for interstate, and possibly international workers to take up new FIFO (fly in-fly out) positions with the contractor.
AWU Victoria acting secretary Liam O’Brien said this should be “a red flag for many, many Victorians”.
Mr O’Brien said unions would be calling on Premier Daniel Andrews and the state government to “take a look at this”.
“That there is such distress about an inflatable rat would be laughable, if it was not for the fact that workers are having their lives turned upside down so the sixth biggest multinational in the world can add a little bit more to its bottom line,” he said.
Ms Mansini yesterday reiterated her claim that the dispute was “not about low paid and ill-treated workers”.
She said documents showed that the total earnings for base-rate offshore workers was about $183,000.
In response to the inflatable cat at the protest site, Ms Mansisi said it was “another threatening tactic which is affecting good people going to work, and in doing so, hurting the local community”.
“It’s appalling that the unions would persist with these intimidating tactics, even after being ordered by a court to deflate a similar mascot in Scabby the Rat,” she said.