The Guardian May 9, 2001

Mobil maintenance workers win uneasy truce

by Peter Mac 

Maintenance workers at Mobil Oil's Adelaide refinery have won an agreement 
from the company over the long-running issue of the number of maintenance 
workers employed at the plant. The company had wanted to cut the number of 
full-time positions from 31 to 12 as soon as possible, but in the face of 
imminent industrial action a compromise was reached where 20 employees 
would be retained, with 10 retrenched over a three-year period.

As reported recently in The Guardian, the company had been accused of 
having trained a group of non-union strike-breakers in Sydney to operate 
the Adelaide plant, with a view to flying them in by helicopter if 
industrial action took place as a result of the current dispute. 

Although Workplace Relations Minister Tony Abbott described the accusations 
as "union paranoia, he also made it clear that the Federal Government 
supported the company, declaring that "companies are entitled to manage 
their own workforces in ways which are consistent with their judgement of 
the economic interests of the company. 

Evidence of the company's plans obtained by the Australian Manufacturing 
Workers' Union included copies of mysterious advertisements for 
petrochemical maintenance employees, with a contact number at Sydney's very 
private American International School. 

Although some Mobil company representatives subsequently denied the 
accusations, the maintenance manager of the Adelaide plant refused to do so 
during discussions with unions, noting only that "I will not lie, but I 
will not answer your questions. 

If implemented, such a plan would have distinct similarities to the 1998 
waterfront dispute, during which, it was later revealed, the government and 
the stevedoring company Patrick's had initiated a plan to train a 
strikebreaking force in Dubai, with a view to taking over the jobs of the 
company's employees. 

The situation also has some similarities with that prevailing at the 
Longford petrochemical works in Victoria several years ago, prior to a 
series of devastating explosions which caused a shutdown of the plant, loss 
of life and severe injuries, and a crisis in energy generation throughout 

The subsequent Longford inquiry concluded that one of the key factors 
contributing to that disaster was the lack of operational maintenance at 
the plant, in particular the reduction in numbers of maintenance personnel 
employed there. 

It would seem that the Mobil management is determined to ignore the lessons 
of history.

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