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AWU stands in support of Offshore Oil & Gas workers

March 20, 2020

 Like all Australians, we are concerned about the rapid spread of the COVID-19 virus and the social, economic and health impacts of the global pandemic.

As representatives of the main unions representing Australian Offshore Oil and Gas workers, we believe it is important at this time that workers in the Offshore Oil & Gas industry are given some assurances about any disruption to work and income as a result of the spread of COVID-19.

The Alliance has already had productive discussions with many employers as the COVID-19 situation continues to evolve (link down page).

The Alliance is asking that offshore facility operators and companies adopt (as a minimum) the proposals set out below.

  • Self-isolation as a result of Government edict: We believe that where a worker is required to undergo self-isolation by reason of Government edict (such as that concerning recent overseas travel), the worker’s employer should pay that worker as if at work, for any rostered shifts not undertaken because of self-isolation.

Where the affected employee is a labour hire casual employee, the offshore facility operator should fund the rostered shifts not worked, either directly to the employee or via the labour hire provider.

  • Self-isolation as a result of potential exposure to COVID-19: Where an employee is required to self-isolate because he or she may have been exposed to COVID-19 because of close proximity to an infected person, the offshore worker’s employer should pay that worker as if at work, for any rostered shifts not undertaken because of self-isolation.

Where the affected employee is a labour hire casual employee, the offshore facility operator should fund the rostered shifts not worked, either directly to the employee or via the labour hire provider.

  • Where the employer / offshore facility operator requires a medical clearance regarding COVID-19: In circumstances where an employer or an offshore facility operator requires a medical certificate clearing an employee of having contracted COVID-19, then the employer/offshore facility operator should bear the cost of the medical appointment and any lost time reasonably incurred in obtaining the clearance.
  • Absence from work due to illness caused by COVID-19: In these circumstances all employees should be afforded 2 weeks special leave. After the two weeks of special leave the normal practice should apply. This means that the employee’s normal personal/carer’s leave entitlements should be available. However, where an employee does not have sufficient personal/carers leave entitlement to cover the rostered shifts not worked as a result of illness, the employer should provide additional personal carers leave, either as an ex gratia benefit or as an advance on future personal/carer’s leave entitlements.

The normal situation in this circumstance is that the employee’s personal/carer’s leave entitlements should be available. However, where an employee does not have sufficient personal/carers leave entitlement to cover the rostered shifts not worked as a result of illness, the employer should provide additional personal carers leave, either as an ex gratia benefit or as an advance on future personal/carer’s leave entitlements.

In circumstances where an employee is a labour hire casual, the offshore facility operator/client should fund the rostered shifts not worked, either directly to the employee or via the labour hire provider.

  • Stand down due to whole or partial closure of the offshore facility: The relevant legal obligations regulating employee stand down will vary according to the applicable industrial instrument and offshore facility.

However, we believe that if a stand down situation emerges because of the impact of COVID-19, the following minimum conditions should apply:

  • Where it appears a stand down is probable, an offshore operator should, as soon as practical, consult with employees and their union representatives about the range of measures available to mitigate the possible effects of a stand down on employees.
  • Where the stand down is for a defined period of 14 days or less, the offshore facility operator should meet the cost of the stand down by paying its own employees and the employees of labour hire contractors a special leave payment equivalent to the rostered shifts lost during that 14-day period.
  • In circumstances where the stand down is indefinite and an employee has leave entitlements, the employee should be invited to utilise those leave entitlements as an alternative to stand down with loss of pay.
  • In circumstances where an employee does not have sufficient leave entitlements, the offshore facility operator should offer the employee the option of taking annual leave in advance as an alternative to stand down without pay.
  • Where an employee is a casual or labour hire casual, the offshore facility operator should make available to that employee, either through the labour hire provider or directly, a special leave payment equivalent to 7.6 hours per day for each day of the employee’s projected roster until operations resume as normal.
  • Quarantine of employees on an offshore facility: Quarantining offshore workers should only occur in exceptional circumstances and in accordance with medical advice. In circumstances where such isolation is unavoidable, the following minimum conditions should apply:
  • The offshore facility operator should ensure that the accommodation is safe and has appropriate facilities for on-site quarantine if it becomes necessary.
  • The offshore facility operator should ensure that the workers confined to the facility have access to telephone and video-call facilities at no cost to themselves.
  • The offshore facility operator should put in place activities and services designed to alleviate the mental stress of the quarantined workers, including by providing professional counselling services, exercise and entertainment options.
  • Appropriate transport must be provided to workers to get home or to hospital if required due to illness or quarantine.
  • The period of quarantine must be treated as work time for all purposes and employees must be given an equivalent time off from rostered work after quarantine before returning again to the facility for work.

The Australian Offshore Oil & Gas industry has been an economic success story and the workers that comprise the industry have been central to this success. The big Oil and Gas companies have done well in recent years and it is now time for those companies to help cushion the blow of COVID-19 impacts on Offshore workers.

We believe the above proposals are both reasonable and proportionate.

We are prepared to work with employers in the industry to ensure that the Offshore Oil & Gas industry continues to be a driving force of the Australian economy into the future.

At this time, however, it is important that workers are given as much certainty as possible so that we can meet this challenge together as a community.

 

LATEST INDUSTRY NEWS

The Offshore Alliance has already had some constructive discussions with a number of operators in the offshore sector and is pleased to report that Jadestone, Shell and INPEX have each made commitments to provide additional payments and flexibility to their workers in response to COVID-19.

Special mention must be made of Jadestone, which despite being a smaller operator within the industry, has a majority directly hired permanent workforce. Jadestone has made commitments to providing additional flexibility to these employees to minimise the impact of COVID-19 and to provide payments to contractors who are required to self-isolate for any reason, including those returning from overseas for work and non-work purposes.

For the Shell Prelude, all permanent Shell employees are currently still performing work. All casuals and contractors aboard the Prelude who have been stood down over the past 5 weeks due to COVID-19 and other unrelated issues continue to be paid 7.6 hours per day for their rostered on-duty period.

INPEX has told the Alliance that it will make a similar commitment to that of Shell and will provide all workers who have been stood down from both the CPF and FPSO with payment of their regular rostered hours until 26 March 2020. Discussions with INPEX are ongoing to encourage INPEX to extend this commitment past that date as it is fast approaching.

Other operators in the sector, including Chevron, Woodside and BHP are yet to make any commitments to assist the workers who continue to ensure that these multinationals secure huge profits each year. The Alliance has begun discussions with all three operators to ensure that workers in the offshore sector are not forgotten during a time of need by the companies that profit from their work.

The Alliance understands that the Chevron Wheatstone platform is currently being down-manned, and BHP has stood down all casuals and contractors from its Pyrenees FPSO. Neither of these operators have made any commitments to the Alliance or their respective workforces regarding stand down pay but discussions continue.

In what is the most significant and hostile action by any offshore operator in response to the COVID-19 pandemic to date, Woodside has stood down over 400 contractor employees from the Goodwyn and North Rankin platforms and the Woodside FPSOs without pay. The Alliance is currently seeking more information on this and will be releasing more information on this shortly.

We will continue discussions with all employers in the sector and apply pressure to those who continue to neglect their workers in this uncertain period.

 We will keep all members updated of any changes and news in the industry.

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