WA's simmering waterfront industrial tension threatens to spill over to Chevron's $29 billion Wheatstone project, with unions alarmed about a new contract awarded to a Swiss-based offshore pipe layer employing foreign workers.
The national executive of the Maritime Union of Australia is in Perth today to discuss industrial issues ahead of a four-day strike at Fremantle port over conditions from tomorrow.
MUA WA secretary Chris Cain said awarding the contract to Swiss-based Allseas Group last week by Wheatstone joint venture partners Apache Energy and KUFPEC Australia threatened to become a major issue in next year's wage negotiations with the offshore petroleum industry.
"We are very concerned and have complained to the Federal Government about this case," he said.
"Australians should be given work in our national waters."
Allseas became an IR flashpoint last year, when it defeated a Federal Court challenge by the Gillard Government to stop it using foreign crew on its vessels on Chevron's $43 billion Gorgon project.
It successfully used Tampa-era migration laws designed to stop boat people to employ cheaper foreign workers on its ships.
Federal Court Justice Neil McKerracher said at the time he was satisfied that the Lorelay and Solitaire ships operated by Allseas were not "resources installations" as defined in the Migration Act, in a case that spun on whether pipes laid by Allseas touched the seabed, and thus whether crew should be under Australian conditions.
The Federal Government has quietly closed the case, and given up on an appeal, although a spokesman for Immigration Minister Chris Bowen said it was "considering its options".
All companies declined to comment, but the move is seen as one way for them to offset spiralling costs and wages undermining oil and gas projects in Australia.
Mr Cain said he was hopeful but not optimistic about resolution of a year-long rostering dispute at Fremantle. Treasurer Troy Buswell said the planned strike at the port was concerning."This is just another example of Julia Gillard's IR system effectively enabling a militant union like the MUA to legally hold a port to ransom simply because their outrageous demands will not be met," he said.
The new magazine for a new generation of West Australians.Click here to download »
All the latest market figures from Australia and the world.Click here »
'The West Australian' is a trademark of West Australian Newspapers Limited 2013.
All rights reserved.
Select your state to see news for your area.