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Issue #1677      March 18, 2015

Concern for trapped workers

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) was concerned for the welfare of workers trapped on Barrow Island as they prepared for the arrival of Tropical Cyclone Olwyn.

More than 1,000 workers were stranded on Barrow Island, off the north-west coast of Australia, after the Chevron stuffed up plans to evacuate its workforce ahead of the arrival of the Category Three Cyclone.

ITF President Paddy Crumlin said many of these workers are now expected to sleep on blow-up mattresses on floors and in corridors in what appear to be sub-standard conditions.

“Chevron missed its window in evacuating workers who are now unnecessarily stranded on Barrow Island in the midst of a severe tropical cyclone,” Mr Crumlin said.

“You’ve got to wonder why Chevron kept people working until it was unsafe to evacuate them. There needs to be a proper investigation into why this has happened because it is Chevron’s fault that the workers are still there.”

A support vessel for the Gorgon Project, the Europa, has done its best to avoid the cyclone but the union is being told the vessel has been battling eight metre swells.

An email from a Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) member says many onboard are sea sick and unable to leave their rooms.

“Half the staff are sick to their stomachs due to the outrageous weather conditions, the glass window shattered on the galley near the dining room, and the waves are nearly as big as half the boat,” the email says.

“People are just getting weaker/sicker by the day and don’t know how to react!”

Mr Crumlin said Chevron has mismanaged the Gorgon project since its inception. “Gorgon is a multi-billion dollar project requiring thousands of workers on Barrow Island yet there is not enough accommodation to house the workers adequately in an emergency.

“Workers were left scared and confused and you really have to question Chevron’s management of this entire episode.

“It’s not the first time Chevron’s management has been called into question – after all the Gorgon project is already 18 months late and more than $17 billion over budget.”

Mr Crumlin, who is also MUA national secretary, recently wrote a joint letter with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) to Chevron Chief Executive John Watson. An excerpt reads:

“We are writing to you directly because we are concerned about Chevron’s Gorgon LNG Project in Western Australia. As you know, this project is of high importance to our unions because it is a significant employer of our members who work in Western Australia.

“In your recent earnings conference call with analysts (January 30, 2015) Ed Westlake, an analyst from Credit Suisse, asked you: ‘And then specifically Gorgon, you’ve kind of reiterated the timetable I mean can you give us any nuggets to give you confidence that we will get that first gas in Gorgon mid-year and the first LNG cargo this year?’

“Mr Watson replied: ‘We’re monitoring very closely contractor performance and productivity on the Island we’re working with the unions on contracts and industrial relations. We’ve been able to manage through those things fairly well and we’re planning for a flawless start up commissioning and start-up process.’

“As unions covering both the construction and maritime workers on the project we don’t believe that the response that you provided to Mr Westlake is correct.

In fact members were telling the unions that the ongoing industrial issues on the site were having an impact on the start-up process.

“We do not believe that Chevron’s local managers and contractors are managing these issues effectively nor are they reporting them accurately to you.

“We understand that senior Chevron managers are expected to visit the project in the next month and we would like to make a formal offer to you for them to meet with us to discuss the outstanding industrial and project management issues on the project.”

The letter was sent on February 6, 2015 and we are yet to receive a reply.

Next article – Taking Issue – Political/business elite rule in Indonesia

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