A three year battle for better wages and conditions has resulted in a historic outcome following a united effort by the Offshore Alliance and union members.
Alliance unions – The Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) – have just delivered a new enterprise agreement with an immediate pay rise of 15 per cent, guaranteed yearly increases and a sign on payment that doubles as backpay.
Under the enterprise agreement, most of the 85 workers at Sodexo Remote Sites, which provides catering and cleaning services to offshore facilities off the coasts of Vic and WA, will receive an extra $15k a year once the agreement is approved by the Fair Work Commission. They will also get a sign on payment of $550 per month of service since the existing enterprise agreement expired in November 2017. This will deliver an extra $20k to some members.
Daniel Walton, National Secretary of the AWU, said: “Sodexo tried for over two years to keep its workers on some of the lowest pay rates in the industry and prevent the Alliance from negotiating better employment conditions. Sodexo didn’t count on the commitment of the Alliance to rid the sector of these second rate agreements and the commitment of Alliance members to organise, stand together and take action in support of their claims.
“This is a sign of what the Alliance and its members can achieve by standing together and pursuing our goals for the sector with absolute tenacity. We have once again shown to the offshore industry that it can’t escape our scrutiny and we will work tirelessly to ensure workers are paid what they are due.”
The battle began back in July 2017 when Sodexo attempted to replace its enterprise agreement that covers its offshore operations.
Like the current enterprise agreement,it was non-union negotiated and provided only the absolute minimum rates of pay and conditions. For the workers covered, the agreement would have resulted in four more years of some of the lowest employment terms and conditions in the sector.
When the AWU became aware of the agreement being lodged with the Fair Work Commission for approval, it filed a submission to the Commission opposing the approval of the agreement. Sodexo eventually conceded and discontinued this application in early 2018.
Six months later, Sodexo once again tried to get a non-union baseline enterprise agreement approved – with terms and conditions still painfully low. The AWU was once again able to intervene, this time with the backing of the MUA. Sodexo’s agreement was once again rejected by the Commission in November 2018.
Instead of commencing negotiations with the Alliance after its failure to have an enterprise agreement approved on two occasions, Sodexo filed an appeal against the decision of the Commission to reject the application. Sodexo was successful in this appeal before a Full Bench of the Commission on the ground it was not afforded procedural fairness in its application. The Sodexo agreement was sent to another member of the Commission for it to be considered a third time.
In March 2019, the Commission again heard Sodexo’s application. TheAlliance unions once again opposed the approval of the enterprise agreement, and six months later the Commission agreed with the Alliance that the agreement could not be approved and dismissed Sodexo’s application.
The Alliance immediately requested that Sodexo commence bargaining with the Alliance unions for an enterprise agreement to cover its offshore operations. When Sodexo rejected this request, the Alliance filed an application in the Commission to show that the majority of the workers wanted Sodexo to commence bargaining. Soon after the Alliance filed this application, Sodexo agreed to commence bargaining with the Alliance.
Bargaining for a union-negotiated enterprise agreement began in October 2019, more than two years after Sodexo’s first application to have a non-union agreement approved.
Bargaining lasted for 12 months, during which time Sodexo workers organised and twice voted to approve protected industrial action in the form of stoppages and work bans, which included the banning of the cooking or service of meat and a ban on all beverages except water. The Alliance members on board the Shell Prelude engaged in protected industrial action – the first strike of offshore caterers in decades.
Sodexo put an agreement out to employees to vote on in October 2020. A majority of employees voted to approve the agreement, which provided a number of significant improvements to the terms and conditions of Sodexo offshore workers, including:
1. An immediate 15% uplift in rates of pay;
2. Superannuation payable on all hours;
3. Indigenous employment commitment;
4. Job Security provisions – contractors and labour hire must be provided at least the same terms and conditions as employees covered by the enterprise agreement;
5. Union delegate training;
6. New allowances, including for night shift, tradespersons, head chefs, and employees on certain offshore facilities;
7. A significant sign-on bonus;
8. Rosters locked in and automatic increases in pay if a roster change results in an increase in working hours;
9. Improved service rewards;
10. Guaranteed yearly wage increases; and
11. An improved higher duties clause.
The new EA is expected to come into effect later this year.