Eleventh-hour talks on Wednesday between Woodside Energy and labour unions appear to have gone some way towards averting the threatened industrial action at the North West Shelf liquefied natural gas project in Australia.

“Substantial progress was made at talks held on Wednesday and the parties have reached in-principle agreement on a number of issues that are key to the workforce,” a Woodside spokesperson told Upstream.

The spokesperson added that Woodside has not received any notices of protected industrial action.

Gas and LNG markets have been spooked in recent weeks over the potential strikes at the 16.9 million tonnes per annum Woodside-operated NWS project, and Chevron’s Gorgon and Wheatstone LNG facilities, which have nameplate capacity of 15.6 million tpa and 8.9 million tpa, respectively.

Offshore Alliance members at Woodside’s gas facilities off Western Australia’s north west coast that supply feedstock to the NWS LNG project are scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the in-principle agreement reached with the company late last night.

“If members endorse the outcome, it will leave Chevron as the sole operator in the Western Australia gas fields without an enterprise agreement [EA] with its workforce. Workers at Shell’s LNG facilities secured an EA this time last year after 76 days of protected industrial action. Workers at Inpex secured a deal with the union earlier in 2022,” the Offshore Alliance noted.

Representatives of more than 150 members on Woodside’s offshore LNG platforms Goodwyn Alpha, North Rankin Complex and Angel off the coast of Karratha were scheduled to meet at 7am local time (GMT +8) on Thursday to decide whether to endorse the deal after a marathon 15-hour meeting the previous day concluded early in the early hours [of Thursday] at the Woodside offices in Perth.

“We welcome the union’s reported statement this morning [Thursday] and will continue to work to finalise an agreement. Woodside continues to engage actively and constructively in the bargaining process,” the company spokesperson added.

Woodside has been in a bargaining process since April with the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and the Electrical Trades Union relating to the offshore workforce on its North Rankin Complex and Goodwyn Alpha and Angel platforms that deliver feed gas to the NWS LNG project.

A more pragmatic approach

Offshore Alliance spokesperson, AWU Western Australia secretary Brad Gandy, said it’s positive that Woodside has now reached this point without having protected industrial action.

“It’s pleasing that Woodside has made our members a strong offer without industrial action being taken. Offshore Alliance members were at all times prepared to take whatever action necessary to secure an industry standard enterprise agreement,” Gandy said.

“Despite the lengthy road to this point, we are relieved that Woodside has now taken a more pragmatic approach and decided to offer our members an enterprise agreement with industry standard terms and conditions.

“Offshore Alliance members working at Woodside will now vote on whether to endorse the agreement and also whether plans to provide Woodside with a notice of industrial action will be withdrawn.”

Gandy added that if Offshore Alliance members at Woodside’s NWS platforms accept the latest deal, he did not think it would be long before Chevron also implemented an EA with its workforce.

Proposed agreement

“Chevron Australia continues to be committed to bargaining in good faith and working through the process to achieve an outcome that is in the interests of both employees and the company. With a view to understanding the views of our employees, we’re providing a proposed Enterprise Agreement for relevant employees at each of our Gorgon and Wheatstone onshore gas facilities to consider and vote on,” a Chevron Australia spokesperson told Upstream.

“The proposed agreements deliver significant value for our employees and would take effect as soon as operational if supported. While employees consider the proposed Agreements, we will continue to engage with employees and their representatives in the bargaining process,” he said.

Workers at Chevron downstream services and Gorgon LNG will return their ballot on Thursday regarding whether they are prepared to take protected industrial action and Chevron Wheatstone platform members will decide on Monday 28 August, the Offshore Alliance noted.

“Protected action ballots of Offshore Alliance members working for Chevron close today, the results of which will give Chevron some insight into how dissatisfied its employees are with negotiations up to this point,” Gandy said.

“We do hope Chevron isn’t going down the same road as Shell who reached an agreement this time last year but only after losing an estimated A$1.5 billion [US$971 million] in lost production due to 76 days of protected industrial action.

“Offshore Alliance members at Chevron simply want an industry standard enterprise agreement, that gives them say on rosters to ensure they’re family friendly, job security provisions to prevent them being replaced by low-wage contractors and a transparent classification structure which allows them to progress on objective criteria,” Gandy said.

The Offshore Alliance is an alliance between the AWU and the Maritime Union of Australia.

Updated to provide latest comment from Chevron.

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