THE Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has hit back at claims its push for higher wages for offshore oil and gas support staff will damage the economy, stating its members deserve better pay and conditions.
The union has been in Fair Work Commission-chaired negotiations with vessel operators for a new enterprise bargaining agreement for about 2500 offshore support workers since early last year.
It is pushing for a 22 per cent wage rise over four years, a promise that local workers will be hired first over foreign labour and for more “family-friendly” rosters.
In November the Australian Mines and Metals Association (AMMA), representing the vessel operators, offered a 16.5 per cent wage increase over four years to the MUA, which knocked back the proposal.
AMMA acting chief executive Richard Berriman slammed the union for not taking the deal, calling its actions “irresponsible and short-sighted” and accusing it of not bargaining in good faith.
“The union has effectively both rejected the industry’s very fair wage offer as well as thwarted the efforts of the commission to work with the parties to resolve the negotiations,” he said.
“The union’s conduct has been a deliberate, calculated and cynical attempt to construct a series of unreasonable demands and then justify to their rank and file the taking of strike action.”
MUA WA branch secretary Christy Cain said the union had proved its commitment to the negotiations by attending more than 100 meetings with the AMMA, reducing its original pay claim and deferring industrial action that was authorised by the Fair Work Commission.
“These claims are simply part of an ongoing campaign by AMMA to spread misinformation about the MUA and the negotiations,” he said.
“While AMMA likes to portray the MUA as making ‘unreasonable demands’ which are a threat to the economy, a study by BIS Shrapnel found that only a quarter of 1 per cent of the cost of a project such as Gorgon is attributable to the wages of maritime workers.
“Our members deserve to be paid well to compensate for the fact that they are away from their families for five weeks at a time, working long hours in very difficult environments.”
Mr Berriman said strike action would come at a significant cost to Australia’s offshore oil and gas sector.
“The MUA’s unrealistic claims and strike threats do nothing to make Australia a more attractive place to invest in new oil and gas projects, which potentially bring thousands of jobs and enormous economic benefits for local communities,” he said.
“Many working Australians might question the motivations of the MUA when their members work six months of the year and earn between $170,000 and $230,000 on average. Most members of the community would consider a further 16.5 per cent pay increase as more than reasonable.”
Mr Cain said the union would only resort to industrial action as a last resort.
“Our members have voted for industrial action if [our] conditions are not met, but we have also shown that we are willing to defer that action in the interests of negotiating in good faith,” he said.
“Industrial action is a last resort and the MUA has already shown its willingness to negotiate instead.”
The AMMA said strike action led by the MUA in 2010, which resulted in a 30 per cent pay rise for employees in the offshore service sector, cost employers up to $750,000 a day.