WITH negotiations set to resume this week, the new manager of the Esso Longford Plants is confident of resolving the long-running negotiations for an enterprise bargaining agreement.
However, with negotiations already dragging on for 18 months, unions believe there may still be some way to go before an agreement is reached.
In his first interview with the Gippsland Times since taking up the position at Longford, David Anderson said declining revenues, falling global oil prices and a shifting local focus to gas required a change in operations.
Esso and unions representing maintenance and operations workers have been unable to agree to a new agreement after the previous one expired in October 2014.
“The enterprise agreement that we’re currently in is something that we cycle through every three years,” Mr Anderson said.
“We look for improvements, we look for good ideas from our employees, we try to adapt them where they fit.
“But on the same side, the business has set its targets on what change looks like.
“Change invariably causes concern, and that concern can manifest itself in ways that make negotiation hard work, but at the same time, the business has set a clear direction.”
The company initially put forward what it claimed was a generous wage increase in exchange for modest productivity improvements, which it said was accepted industry practice.
However, those proposals have been rejected by 98 per cent of the work force, primarily on the grounds of erosion of work conditions, safety and manning reductions.
With both sides unable to reach an agreement, unions initiated work bans on overtime and call-outs, while the company imposed lock-outs.
Mr Anderson said negotiations between the parties would resume soon.
“I’m hopeful that we can resolve this sooner rather than later,” he said.
“The change that’s been asked for isn’t overly complex, but people get concerned.
“We need to make sure their concerns are fully understood.”
Electrical Trades Union Gippsland organiser Peter Mooney said there were many issues to overcome before an agreement was reached, claiming “there’s a fair way to go”.
“The same issues are still there,” he said.
“The unions have maintained their position to maintain the current agreement, and enhance a few areas.
“Esso wants to change rosters and shift patterns.
“These are not easy issues to get over.”
One current Esso employee pointed out that when EBA negotiations began, oil prices were amongst the highest on record.
The employee also said while negotiations had been dragging on with maintenance and operations personnel, Esso staff had been awarded pay rises for the past two years.