Union pay rates hit Ichthys

Penalty rates that would see a cook paid about $230,000 a year threaten a cost blowout on Inpex's massive $34 billion Ichthys gas field off the WA coast, just weeks after rising bills scuttled Woodside's nearby $40 billion Browse venture.

The latest Maritime Union wage claims are contained in a copy of the industry's current pattern bargaining push, obtained by _WestBusiness _.

It specifies that cooks working on offshore oil and gas project support vessels with six, 28-day-shifts a year (working 10 hours each day) should be paid a base salary of $131,050.

But a host of other conditions lifts this to about $230,000 according to calculations by specialists Nelson Consulting Group.

These include that those working on the Japanese and French-backed project get an "Inpex allowance" of $250 a day.

There are also tight restrictions on the use of foreign and non-union labour, and an allowance of up to $80 if onboard air-conditioning fails for a period of two or more hours where temperatures exceed 28C, or $30 below 28C.

Industry groups have warned that the payments are symptomatic of broader worrying trends in the sector that are making Australia uncompetitive and scaring off investment for projects such as Woodside's James Price Point development.

Just last week, former resources Minister Martin Ferguson warned unions not to "kill the golden goose" by demanding unreasonable conditions.

An Inpex spokeswoman warned that there had already been a sharp jump in costs and that investors needed greater certainty for the massive projects.

"Gas industry projects have very long time frames and require investment of an enormous scale and, as a result, require the greatest possible certainty about stability of operating costs," she said.

"The continued development and growth of the gas industry requires a focus on productivity and reasonable wage growth . . . as an outcome for the current negotiations."

Maritime Union organiser Will Tracey, who is understood to be leading negotiations for the union, did not return calls yesterday.

But unions have argued that they are not to blame for the industry's woes and the remote, tough, jobs demand adequate remuneration.

They have also criticised big oil and gas companies, including Chevron for bungled project management resulting in sharp budget blowouts on ventures such as the US giant's $52 billion Barrow Island site.

Nelson Consulting Group director Darren Nelson said the closed shop nature of the wage claim was designed to limit international competition and would harm productivity.

Inpex is targeting the end of 2016 for the first shipment of LNG cargoes from Darwin. The Federal Coalition has promised to re-establish the Howard Government's building watchdog, and extend its powers to offshore oil and gas. COOK UP 230K The amount the Maritime Union of Australia wants chefs working on the Ichthys project paid.