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Published: 19 Jun 2023
MARITIME UNION OF AUSTRALIA
WESTERN AUSTRALIA BRANCH
SEAFARERS ON STRIKE FOR SEACARE WORKERS' COMPENSATION
20 JUNE 2023
Seafarers on board DOF offshore supply vessels nationally started indefinite protected industrial action at 6am on 14 June. Seafarers are on strike because they are deeply concerned about a sharp reduction in their workers’ compensation entitlements. Other workers at the same company have suffered catastrophic injuries and a fatality in recent years. Workers compensation coverage is the only outstanding issue in their Enterprise Agreement negotiations. On 15 June, Esso filed a motion to the Fair Work Commission seeking to terminate the protected action as they were concerned that it could affect the supply of gas to Victoria. On 17 June, the MUA agreed to keep Esso’s Bass Strait platforms supplied with glycol which is needed to move gas through pipelines. The other protected action at DOF will continue.
“Workers at DOF have been killed and suffered life-changing injuries, while working offshore in rough weather and deep beneath the sea’s surface. Workers have every right to be properly compensated if they are injured on the job. Offshore seafarers go to work knowing this is a real possibility. But now DOF is playing with the lives of workers in a race to the bottom on workers’ compensation.” said Will Tracey, MUA West Australian Branch Secretary.
In 2022 DOF Subsea was convicted of three counts of an employer negligently breaching its health and safety duties, after deep sea divers working from a DOF vessel at an Inpex gas facility suffered neurological injuries. In June 2015, MUA member and seafarer Andrew Kelly was crushed to death between containers on the deck of a DOF platform supply vessel 170km off the coast of NW West Australia. The Australian Transport Safety Board found that the company’s safety procedures for cargo handling and securing were inadequate.
Not only does DOF want to stop providing seafarers with Seacare workers’ compensation entitlements, they are refusing to take out a Victorian policy to cover workers working between Barry Beach in Gippsland Victoria, and Esso’s Bass Strait gas platforms. The nationally agreed State of Connection test says that injured workers should be covered in the state they ‘usually work’ or are ‘usually based.’ DOF are insisting Victorian-based seafarers can be covered with a West Australian workers’ compensation policy – which will only cover them for half the time if they have a major injury, before they are tipped onto Disability or Jobseeker payments.
An anonymous seafarer working at DOF commented: “We travel across the country to go to work. If we are injured on the job, there are no emergency services to help. There are no light duties on a platform supply vessel – we have to be fully fit to return to work and this can take time. DOF are trying to change a clause in our agreement that ensured we had access to the entitlements of the national Seacare workers’ compensation scheme that was designed for our industry. We can’t accept this.”
Liam O’Brien, Assistant Secretary at the Australian Council of Trade Unions commented “The big gas companies and other maritime employers have been trying to undermine the Seacare workers’ compensation scheme for years, and the Liberals were only too happy to help them. These companies are making billions in profits – the least they can do is properly compensate injured workers, with entitlements appropriate to the work they are doing and the jurisdiction they are working in. We are pleased that the Albanese government is starting to take steps to ensure the Seacare workers’ compensation scheme is maintained and put on a sustainable footing, but more work must be done.”
DOF vessels carry supplies to the gas platforms operated by Esso off the coast of Victoria and by Chevron off West Australia. Other DOF vessels are carrying out decommissioning work for the Commonwealth on the Northern Endeavour former oil facility in the Timor Sea, and for Esso in the Bass Strait.
The only outstanding issue in these EA negotiations is that the MUA is seeking to retain an existing clause that ensures workers receive benefits equivalent to the national Seacare workers compensation scheme. The employer, DOF, are seeking to amend the clause and reduce these benefits. A number of other similar offshore vessel operators have agreed to or retained a clause with the same provisions over the past 6 months.
Seacare is a national workers compensation scheme for seafarers, which provides an important level of certainty in an industry that employs a national workforce that regularly work across state boundaries. It also provides an appropriate level of coverage for a workforce who regularly travel across to country to go to work (it covers travel to and from work), work in remote locations at sea with no access to medical or even emergency services (and therefore has a wider definition of work-related injury), and who must be fully fit to return to work in these remote and demanding circumstances (and therefore offers coverage for a longer period of time than state schemes).
Unfortunately the delivery of Seacare relies on competing private insurance companies, and the Liberals since John Howard have been working to undermine the scheme. Combined with pressure on the insurance industry from escalating natural disasters, insurers have started to withdraw from providing Seacare policies.
Maritime unions believe that the best option to save Seacare is for government to tender for a sole provider for the scheme, to be paid for by employer premiums. This would eliminate the costly duplication created by having multiple providers, and create accountability to ensure high levels of service and good return to work outcomes for injured seafarers.