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Shell drops plans to lock out Prelude workers from Western Australian offshore gas facility

Shell drops plans to lock out Prelude workers from Western Australian offshore gas facility

ABC KimberleyBy Taylor Thompson-Fuller

Key points:

  • The company blamed a lack of assurance from unions that safety functions would be carried out

  • Union representatives said the claims were a “red herring” and they would not endanger safety of workers at the rig

  • Industrial negotiations proposed via mediation ground to a halt

Shell has scrapped plans to lock workers out of its multi-billion dollar offshore gas facility, Prelude, citing safety concerns.

Workers onboard the facility 400 kilometres off Western Australia’s Kimberley coast are engaged in protected industrial action in a bid to push for better wages.

The Anglo-Dutch energy giant shut down the facility and suspended production in response to strikes earlier this month.

It said last week it planned to lock workers out from the Prelude facility.

Safety concerns prompt backdown

A Shell spokesperson said the lockout would not proceed “in order to allow for safety-critical work to be carried out”.

“The safety of all people onsite and integrity of the facility remains our priority,” the spokesperson said.

In a letter sent to employees on Monday, Prelude asset manager Peter Norman said the backdown followed a lack of reassurance from unions they would carry out critical work onboard the facility.

‘We will not proceed with a lockout in order to protect critical safety and emergency response activities,” the letter read.

“If we had moved to a lockout, the current exemptions under the work bans covering this work would no longer apply.

“And we have no assurance from the union that they would maintain the exemptions to protect these activities.”

Safety claims a ‘red herring’

The Australian Workers Union (AWU) and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) represent workers through the Offshore Alliance partnership.

AWU national secretary Dan Walton said the claims made in the letter about safety concerns were a “red herring”.

“The union has been writing to the regulator about our safety concerns for over a year and we’ve clearly said we would drop any protected action if it was likely to jeopardise the safety of anyone,” he said.

Last week the Offshore Alliance proposed a mediation process via the Fair Work Commission in a bid to break the deadlock.

Negotiations ground to a halt over the weekend.

Regulator to visit Shell HQ

In the lead-up to the lockout last week, a spokesperson for the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) said it planned to visit Shell’s Australian headquarters.

“NOPSEMA will conduct an inspection at Shell’s regulated business premises in the week commencing July 25,” a spokesperson said.

“If any potential risks are identified, an offshore inspection will be scheduled.”

The ABC has contacted NOPSEMA for an update on whether the visit would still go ahead.


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