Up to 1600 workers have defied court orders and calls by the Rudd government to end strike action at Woodside Petroleum’s Pluto gas site in Western Australia.
Their action only halted after eight days on strike when the company finally agreed to meet union representatives for talks.
Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard called the strike “completely unacceptable”, declaring, “This industrial action that’s been taken now is not lawful…They need to sit down, have a think and get back to work.”
Rudd’s new “Fair Work” laws continue to criminalise any strike action that occurs outside official bargaining periods over agreements on pay and conditions.
The dispute arose over plans to take away personal rooms for each worker at the site’s accommodation village and force them to move into a new room at the start of every shift on site—which the company calls “motelling”.
Workers are disgusted at plans to take away one of the few conveniences in a difficult work environment. One worker commented “It’s like living in a village; you get to know who your neighbours are, etc. Now they just want us to roll up back on site not knowing where we’ll live from one shift visit to another.”
Workers at the Pluto site are often away from their homes and families for nine or ten months every year, and leave to spend time at home between shifts.
But there are wider concerns about worsening conditions on site.
“Most of us are spending 12 hours a day on the job and we’re only getting paid for ten,” another worker told the ABC.
“We’ve been losing conditions over the last couple of years due to John Howard’s Industrial Relation Laws and Kevin 07 doesn’t seem to be helping much so it’s just come to a head.”
As the dispute escalated workers organised a picketline blocking the main entrance to the Pluto site that held up traffic for several kilometres along the highway.
Defying legal intimidation
Under Rudd’s workplace laws Pluto workers have been threatened with individual $22,000 fines for “illegal” strike action. A Federal Court injunction threatened even heavier fines.
The anti-union Australian Building and Construction Commission (ABCC) has also weighed in with an attempt to intimidate the workers. ABCC Commissioner John Lloyd warned “The workers are potentially exposing themselves to substantial penalties. The ABCC will do all in its power to ensure that workplace laws are enforced.”
But the workers have defied these threats for over a week of strike action. Their employer, Woodside, is not backing down, with the Executive Vice President of the Pluto project announcing, “The introduction of motelling is non-negotiable.”
Further strikes look inevitable unless Woodside gives in. Workers at Pluto will have to defy Rudd’s unfair anti-strike laws to win. They will need to maintain their determination and keep up the strikes.