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Final appeal fails for Woodside; workers begin bargaining for first time in 30 years

March 16, 2023

The Fair Work Commission (FWC) has again backed workers on Woodside Energy’s North West Shelf offshore platforms who have clearly shown they want to exercise their right to bargain with their employer for an enterprise agreement.

In the latest win for the Offshore Alliance, a powerful partnership between The Australian Workers’ Union and the Maritime Union of Australia, a full Bench of the FWC rejected another appeal by Woodside, this time against a Commission decision to order Woodside to bargain with its employees, and the Alliance, for an enterprise agreement.

The decision Woodside appealed came a full eight months after the workers’ Offshore Alliance representatives made an application for a majority support determination (MSD) to force the company to the bargaining table.

The Alliance applied for an MSD for the Woodside workers on June 3, 2022.

AWU National Secretary Dan Walton said Woodside then began an incessant, meritless and ultimately futile legal campaign to frustrate and delay the application.

“From the outset Woodside made its intentions clear, that it would do anything and everything it legally could to frustrate and delay this attempt to uphold its workers’ rights,” Mr Walton said.

“Now Woodside has made 10 applications, including three appeals to the Fair Work Commission Full Bench, an application to the Federal Court for judicial review and an application for an injunction in the Federal Court.

“It has not succeeded in any of them, and rightly so.”

The Alliance estimates this senseless campaign has so far cost Woodside more than $2 million in legal fees.

Mr Walton said Woodside threw up a raft of tactics on the road to its inevitable loss.

For example, as part of the MSD process the Alliance collected signed, individual petitions from workers to back the application.

Woodside repeatedly demanded that the Alliance release the petitions without any of the redactions put in place to protect those workers’ identities.

This was a clear tactic aimed at intimidating the workers and pressuring them to back down, and one the Alliance vigorously resisted.

The company also made numerous unfounded accusations of bias against FWC Deputy President Binet, who was hearing the application.

It was an attack without merit, and just another delaying tactic that was eventually dismissed.

“At every turn Woodside fought against its workers’ legitimate wishes,” Mr Walton said.

“The workers and their Alliance legal team showed great tenacity, staring down the nation’s largest oil and gas company and its army of lawyers, and achieved a strong outcome.”

After the first decision from the FWC ordering Woodside to bargain, Mr Walton said he hoped the ruling would force Woodside to see sense and begin working with its employees, not against them.

However, that hope was short lived. Within a week Woodside had filed another appeal – it’s third one just in this matter.

This time, Woodside attempted to overturn the decision by arguing that some employees included in the Alliance application shouldn’t have been, and as a result, it was unfair.

The Alliance defended the appeal and argued the scope of the proposed enterprise agreement was fair.

In a decision handed down on March 1, the Full bench rejected Woodside’s arguments, finding that the scope of the agreement was fair and that the FWC can take the wishes of workers into account when assessing whether a scope is fair or not, just as the Deputy President did.

“This is just the latest example that shows the Offshore Alliance is tenacious and – backed by its growing offshore oil and gas industry membership – is winning no matter how unreasonable the opponent,” Mr Walton said.

After the decision was published, Woodside was quoted in the media as saying that the company will now commence bargaining.

“I’d like to take Woodside at face value and trust that the public comments will match up to the company’s actions, but unfortunately our experiences with Woodside to date are not ones that foster trust.”

In what can only be described as a departure from what has been Woodside’s approach to the Alliance and bargaining, Woodside contacted the Alliance one week after the decision was published to confirm that it had distributed a notice of employee representational rights to commence bargaining.

Mr Walton said a hallmark of the Offshore Alliance was its persistence, which has truly shone through in this matter. He said that this and member engagement had netted great results for the Alliance and its members.

“The Alliance has now negotiated more than 45 in-term enterprise agreements in the hydrocarbons sector, and we hope to add a Woodside agreement to that list in the near future.

“The Offshore Alliance is the offshore oil and gas union in Western Australia. Everyone working in the sector should join.”