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‘Up against the biggest’

Offshore workers claim victory against ExxonMobil after longest strike in Australian modern history
Hajera Blagg, Thursday, July 18th, 2019

As the longest strike in Australia’s modern history carried on month after agonisingly-long month, striking offshore workers stood firm in the defence of their pay and conditions, however long it would take.


With the support of unions across Australia and the world, including Unite and Workers Uniting, AMWU union rep Troy Carter and his offshore colleagues held on till the bitter end. Now, 742 days after their strike began, against all odds they’ve won.


Carter, who visited the UK last year and worked with Unite to drum up support for their cause, told UniteLive at the time, about 500 days into the strike, that the dispute had taken its toll.


“It’s been really hard – and that’s purely from the length of the dispute,” he told UniteLive last October. “That’s what the company wants us to do; to throw in the towel.”


Eventually, the number of workers on the picket line shrank to nine, including Carter, after fellow strikers and their unions agreed that those who had found other employment and whose families were suffering severe hardship could amicably leave the picket.


Those remaining took turns manning a picket line 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at a site in Longford, and they’ve persisted even in the face of court orders banning the inflatable ‘Scabby the Rat’ and private investigators intimidating them by photographing their activity on the picket lines.


As a direct result of their tenacity, the ExxonMobil subcontractor UGL agreed to come to the table and drop the sham contract it had forced onto the workforce that would have cut 40 per cent of their pay and slashed their terms and conditions.


Now, both Esso, ExxonMobil’s Australian affiliate, and UGL have agreed to a collective agreement hammered out by both the AMWU and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU) that preserves their pay and conditions.


Part of the workers’ campaign was exposing ExxonMobil’s tax dodging practices – their efforts were strongly influential in convincing the government to increase tax on resource firms such as oil companies. Now, Australian taxpayers will enjoy an added £3.22bn to the treasury.


Another vital part of their campaign was linking up with other unions internationally, including Unite, to spread the word of their cause.


AMWU rep Troy Carter with Unite AGS Tony Burke

AMWU rep Troy Carter with Unite AGS Tony Burke


Commenting on their victory, Carter (pictured above left) said, “The power of the union is strongest when it is up against the biggest. ExxonMobil is one of the biggest companies in the world, yet it couldn’t get rid of a picket line of nine trade unionists. This is a very important moment for unionists worldwide in demonstrating that we are ready to stand up and fight multinational companies against union busting.”


Unite assistant general secretary Tony Burke hailed the offshore workers’ victory.


“Unite was proud to work with Troy [Carter] when he came here in 2018,” he said. “He did a fantastic job for his members giving interviews to the media and on TV, notably in Scotland where he met oil workers and officials thanks to Unite officer Tommy Campbell in Aberdeen.


“Unite also reached out to companies connected with the dispute,” Burke added. “International solidarity works! This small group of members are a credit to the global trade union movement and we are proud we stood shoulder to shoulder with them.”


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