The Guardian August 22, 2001


Mobil bullies an end to strike

by Bob Briton

Exxon is famous world-wide for its many wrong doings. Few will have 
forgotten the enormous environmental damage caused by the Exxon Valdez when 
this oil tanker ran aground off the coast of Alaska in 1989.

In Australia, no doubt responding to this awareness, the company has chosen 
to stay with the "Mobil" brand name even though major changes have taken 
place in the two years since Mobil merged with Exxon. Corporate regional 
headquarters are now located in Singapore rather than Melbourne, for 
example.

Last week another chapter was added to Exxon's public infamy. The huge 
resources of Mobil-Exxon were deployed in a dispute involving seven workers 
at the company's fuel terminal at Birkenhead in Adelaide.

The fuel terminal operators voted to take strike action after the company 
rejected a pay claim for a 10 percent increase over two years. Mobil had 
refused to consider anything above a 3 percent increase over the 12-month 
life of the new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA). The National Union 
of Workers (NUW), representing the terminal operators, duly gave the 72 
hours' notice of the strike, as required by law.

The workers walked off the job after having made the plant safe and set up 
a peaceful vigil outside the terminal.

Needless to say, such a picket becomes illegal under anti-union industrial 
legislation. Even so, the three workers taking turns at the gate, were able 
to convince many tanker drivers coming to the terminal to support the 
striking plant operators.

Predictably, Mobil claimed that workers had physically prevented vehicles 
from entering the terminal and the State's Industrial Relations Commission 
stood firmly by the side of the transnational.

The NUW understands that threats of legal action against drivers and their 
unions were used in an attempt to prevent the solidarity actions of outside 
workers.

The most astounding escalation of the company's response, however, came 
when non-union workers'  company staff and workers from interstate  
were used to reopen the terminal and distribute fuel. Workers and their 
union were incensed that people's safety was being put at risk.

"This was not safe. They had not been trained on the facility and drivers 
were putting themselves at risk", SA State Secretary of the NUW Nick 
Thredgold told The Guardian.

In the face of the company's action, workers voted to accept a four percent 
pay increase agreed to by Mobil during meetings held in the Industrial 
Relations Commission. Because the current agreement with the company 
expired three months ago, the four percent increase will cover a 15-month 
period, at the end of which workers will have to line up again for an 
increase.

The NUW's SA State Secretary told The Guardian that Mobil had 
rejected arguments from the union that the offer was below the level of the 
Consumer Price Index.

According to Mobil, the CPI figure has to be adjusted for the effect of the 
GST, the introduction of which was accompanied by tax cuts for workers.

Using these fraudulent arguments the company claims that the increase in 
the cost of living is just over two percent. Mobil also pleaded that they 
had problems of their own due to increased electricity charges. The company 
was quiet, however, about the significant reductions in rates they had 
negotiated with the City of Port Adelaide Enfield Council.

So there you have it. A transnational with profits world-wide of around $17 
billion a year and double digit returns to shareholders playing hardball to 
prevent workers getting $50 per week extra in their pay packets. 

"That's their stance. This company would rather spend a lot of money on 
third party legal advice than negotiate a meaningful agreement for a 
reasonable pay increase with their own workers", said Nick Thredgold.

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