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Offshore Alliance win for Fugro ROV pilots

February 3, 2022

The Offshore Alliance has confirmed it is the union for ROV pilots and subsea engineers in the Australian offshore hydrocarbons industry after it forced Fugro Australia Marine to the bargaining table – the fourth ROV contractor in the sector to do so.

The Alliance – made up of The Australian Workers’ Union and the Maritime Union of Australia – has secured the commencement of bargaining with Fugro for its ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) specialist workforce.

The Offshore Alliance has now begun or finalised enterprise bargaining with all four major ROV contractors in the sector, with two of these resulting in new enterprise agreements. (link to DOF story)

“The Offshore Alliance is the union for ROV pilots and subsea engineers wanting to improve their pay and conditions,” AWU WA Branch Secretary Brad Gandy says.

“Fugro is the fourth ROV contractor to commence bargaining with the Offshore Alliance, and the second that has chosen the hard way – and lost.”

The Alliance members’ win came after a successful majority support determination application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

“As was the case last year with UPS, principal contractor on the Northern Endeavour, Fugro only attempted to challenge the majority support aspect of the application,” Mr Gandy says.

“That shows that companies in the sector are beginning to accept that the Alliance does not commit to anything half-heartedly.

“They can see that if workers in offshore oil and gas want to bargain with their employer, the Alliance will support them and will do what it takes to get results.”

Fugro’s current enterprise agreement expired in July 2020, and Offshore Alliance members working with the company asked the union to contact it to begin negotiations for a new agreement.

The Alliance did so, only to have Fugro say it had no intention of bargaining.

In response to this rebuff, the Alliance collected petitions from workers covered by the old agreement who wanted to express their interest in entering negotiations for a new one and, on November 11, 2021, lodged a FWC application for a majority support determination.

Under the Fair Work Act, if a majority of employees want to bargain to make an enterprise agreement, but the employer won’t budge, their union can apply to the commission for a majority support determination (MSD).

If the commission makes an MSD, the employer must commence bargaining. If the employer refuses, the union can seek a bargaining order to force the employer to meet the Act’s good-faith bargaining requirements.

Fugro responded to the Alliance’s application by saying that should the FWC decide a majority of relevant workers wished to bargain, it would not oppose an MSD, but through its legal representatives then did its level best to prevent the Alliance from securing one.

Because the Fugro ROV workforce is entirely casual, it is common for the FWC to set a time period for the workers to be employed for the purposes of the application, rather than a single day (as would be the case with permanent workers).

The Alliance collected petitions over a four-week period that aligned with the on-duty period of the Fugro work cycle (four weeks on/four weeks off), and argued that the commission should set this four-week period as the “time of employment”.

Fugro tried to convince the FWC that a shorter period – just two weeks – was required, and for the commission to reject any petition collected outside of that.

But it was to no avail, with the commission accepting the more logical time period as submitted by the Alliance and handing down a decision on January 28 that confirmed the obvious: a majority of Fugro’s employees wanted to bargain.

In fact, the FWC stated in its decision that even if it had accepted the time period put forward by Fugro, the evidence that the Alliance had provided established that a majority of those workers wished to bargain as well.

The FWC made an order triggering the commencement of bargaining, with Fugro required to distribute a notice of employee representational rights on or before February 11.

The Offshore Alliance has since contacted Fugro to request that the company confirm that it will do so.

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