On July 11, 2019 oil and gas workers in Victoria, Australia, dismantled their picket line after 742 days, following an agreement ending a long-running dispute with ExxonMobil and its maintenance subcontractor, UGL.
The David vs. Goliath victory against the world’s sixth biggest company, ExxonMobil, by workers who refused to give in, has had a nationwide impact in Australia.
The union campaign exposed billions of dollars of tax evasion by the energy giant and played a major role in pressuring the government to increase taxation on resource companies. It will see the Australian public receive an extra US$4 billion in revenue, with more to come.
The protest, which is one of the longest in modern Australian history, began on June 22, 2017, when a number of the 230 maintenance workers at ExxonMobil’s Esso subsidiary in Longford refused to accept a new contract from UGL. The agreement slashed wages by 40%, proposed grueling anti-family shifts, and left workers unpaid if they had to stop work due to technical problems.
The new sham contract had been signed by five people thousands of miles away in Western Australia, without any knowledge of local workers or unions.
Now, IndustriALL Global Union-affiliated trade unions in Australia—the Australian Workers’ Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, and the Electrical Trades Union—have reached an agreement with ExxonMobil and UGL which will ensure that the sham contract is not used on any other site in Australia.
One of the victorious ExxonMobil strikers, Troy Carter from the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union. | Esso/UGLy Dispute via Facebook
Furthermore, unions have forced UGL into agreeing to re-negotiate for a union-ratified collective agreement where the sham agreement has been used to date. The campaign has received solidarity support from unions across Australia and all over the world, including IndustriALL.
Troy Carter, a leading union campaigner, and one of the nine remaining workers on the picket line, said:
“The power of the union is strongest when it is up against the biggest. ExxonMobil is one of the biggest companies in the world, yet it couldn’t get rid of a picket line of nine trade unionists. This is a very important moment for unionists worldwide in demonstrating that we are ready to stand up and fight multinational companies against union busting.”
As the campaign grew, unions successfully lobbied the government into re-opening a Senate enquiry into corporate tax avoidance, during which ExxonMobil was forced into admitting it is owned by a shelf company in the Netherlands. The Dutch company is in turn owned by another company in the Bahamas (a known tax haven) where ExxonMobil has a further 575 registered shelf companies.
IndustriALL’s general secretary, Valter Sanches, said:
“This victory is down to the steadfast determination and undiminished spirit of workers who stayed on the picket line, day and night, for more than two years resisting a brutal violation. They are an inspiration for workers worldwide. Their sacrifices have exposed corporate tax avoidance by ExxonMobil and helped to bring billions back into public hands. The government of Australia must ensure multinationals pay their fair share of tax, and act to prevent these sham contracts from inflicting further suffering on workers and their families.”