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76 Days, 230 Workers and $1.5 Billion – how OA members won a landmark EA on the Shell Prelude

September 6, 2022

The Shell Prelude enterprise agreement has been an epic journey, but after two years of negotiations and disputes the almost 200 Offshore Alliance members and Offshore Alliance officials have reached in-principle agreement with Shell for the first enterprise agreement to cover Shell’s workforce on the Prelude facility.

The campaign included 76 days of protected industrial action, no less than nine applications to the Fair Work Commission, and an estimated $1.5 billion in lost production by the belligerent employer.

But it has shown what a united unionised workforce can achieve, and has further cemented the Offshore Alliance as the most active and successful union in the offshore oil and gas industry.

The path to the in-principle agreement began on June 19, 2020, when the Offshore Alliance (OA) contacted the Anglo-Dutch company, asking it to initiate bargaining for an enterprise agreement for its workers on the Prelude floating liquefied natural gas facility, 425km offshore from Broome, WA.

Shell refused, so the OA collected signed petitions from Shell’s Prelude employees and applied to the FWC on 31 July 2020 for a majority support determination, which the company opposed.

Prior to the application being determined by the Commission, Shell offered to have a third party conduct a ballot to determine if employees wanted to begin negotiations for an EA to apply to their employment.

The Alliance agreed, on the basis that it drafted the question: “Do you want to bargain for an enterprise agreement to apply to your employment with Shell FLNG Pty Ltd?”

The result was a resounding “yes”, despite Shell’s best attempts to discourage its workers from voting in favour.

On December 14, Shell issued a notice of employee representational rights and bargaining officially began on February 17, 2021.

But after seven bargaining meetings, negotiations were put on hold due to a dispute about representation. The meetings resumed in March 2022 after this matter was settled.

On May 6 this year the OA applied to the FWC for a protected action ballot order, and on May 23 members voted to approve all 20 proposed actions, with a minimum of 98% endorsement.

Protected action began on June 10, with a variety of bans and work stoppages being put in place by OA members.

On June 21, the OA applied to the FWC for an additional protected action ballot order listing further actions. OA members voted to back all additional 13 proposed actions, again with a minimum of 98% endorsement.

On June 24, Shell, without notifying the OA, told workers that it was going to put an agreement not supported by the union out to a vote. The proposed agreement did not incorporate the vast majority of the union’s claims. Naturally the Alliance advised members to vote “no”.

OA members escalated their protected action in early July, with work stoppages increasing to 11 hours per day.

And on July 11, the result of the proposed non-union EA ballot was released: members had remained staunch and 95% had voted “no”.

The following day Shell told its workforce that in response to the protected industrial action the company would cease production on the Prelude and shutter the facility.

And on July 13, Shell told the OA it would not bargain while protected industrial action was taking place. Undaunted, union members continued to take industrial action.

On the same day, senior Shell management sent an email to all Prelude workers encouraging them to no longer engage in protected industrial action.

Then on July 15, Shell filed for good faith bargaining orders against the OA, citing media statements by union officials and social media posts. The OA opposed the application.

The situation was set to escalate when, on July 20, Shell told its workforce at a virtual town hall meeting that it intended to lock them out of the Prelude facility on July 25. However, when July 25 arrived,  Shell informed its workforce that the lockout would no longer go ahead.

On July 21, the OA filed for good faith bargaining orders against Shell, citing the company’s stance of not engaging in bargaining while protected industrial action was being taken.

On August 3, Shell applied to the FWC for on order suspending the protected industrial action. The OA opposed the application.

Prior to the hearing the OA and Shell engaged in facilitated negotiations before the FWC. No agreement was reached and the application to suspend the OA action was heard by the FWC.

On August 8, the FWC dismissed Shell’s application to suspend the industrial action, and on August 9 Shell filed for further good faith bargaining orders against the OA, citing further media comments by union officials about the dispute. The OA opposed the application.

On August 19, the OA filed an application with the FWC to deal with the bargaining dispute, and on August 23, the application was listed for conference before the Commission.

That evening, an in-principle agreement was finally reached between the parties for a union-backed EA for the Prelude workforce.

The access period for the proposed agreement commenced on 26 August and the ballot opened on 3 September.

26 months. 230 workers. 76 days of protected industrial action. $1.5 billion in lost profits. Offshore Alliance members unified and truly exemplified the meaning of ‘one day longer, one day stronger.’

The Alliance congratulates its members on their resolve and victory.

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