8 May 2024

Unions call for equal pay for ASC submarine maintenance workers in Adelaide

| Andrew McLaughlin
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submarine undergoing maintenance

A Collins-class submarine undergoes maintenance at the Henderson Marine Complex in Western Australia. Photo: ADF.

Submarine maintenance workers at ASC’s Osborne Shipyard in Adelaide have taken protected industrial action over what they perceive as unfair pay and conditions.

Unions representing the South Australia-based workers claim they are paid less than their ASC colleagues working at HMAS Stirling and the nearby Henderson Marine Complex in Western Australia, despite performing what they say is higher-skilled work and being responsible for training the WA-based workforce.

The Royal Australian Navy’s six Collins-class submarines undergo heavy maintenance – or full-cycle docking – at Osborne where each vessel is pulled out of the water and broken down into large components, its engine and other dynamic components are changed out, and upgrade work on the boat’s electrical, mechanical and weapons systems is conducted.

Further, and while major work isn’t scheduled to start for at least another decade, the Osborne workforce will be tasked to build Australia’s eight planned AUKUS-SSN nuclear-powered submarines, the first of which is scheduled to enter service in 2042.

In WA, Collins-class and visiting US and UK nuclear-powered submarines undergo lighter or preventive maintenance, often while the boat is still in the water, a process the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU), Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and Electrical Trades Union (ETU) say requires less-invasive and detailed work.

READ ALSO WA sends business mission to US to drum up more AUKUS work

The unions say that, despite this, the WA-based workers are paid 17 per cent more on average than their counterparts in SA.

AMWU SA assistant state secretary Stuart Gordon said South Australian workers were performing essential work and critically supported the ASC workers in Western Australia, and questioned why they were not treated as well as their WA counterparts.

“The SA division of ASC fulfils a vital role in Australia’s submarine capability by performing a huge volume of work unlike anywhere else across the country,” he said.

“They are the only team able to carry out the Collins’ deep maintenance, or full-cycle docking, where the boat is completely stripped down and has its massive diesel engines and main motor removed and refurbished.

“The WA division of ASC only do the running maintenance of the boats and breakdowns.

“The SA submarine workers are constantly helping and training their WA colleagues, and fixing all the equipment they remove as the SA division has the skills, expertise and knowledge to undertake these tasks.

“It’s a slap in the face for trainers in SA who are being paid less than those they are training. They should be paid more, but they’re just asking to be paid the same. These workers deserve respect.”

READ ALSO Where will Australia’s AUKUS submarine workforce come from?

In a brief statement, ASC acknowledged the protected industrial action taken by the AMWU, ETU and its members, and recognised their right to take the action.

The company said it had been in “exhaustive negotiations with the unions and their representatives” over the past six months and had made several offers that had taken into account the economic and environmental cost factors of the two locations.

But it says the unions have rejected all of these offers, including a 10 per cent pay rise for the SA-based workforce.

ASC says it has also suggested engaging the services of the Fair Work Commissioner to review the employees’ claims and mandate an outcome, but says the unions have also rejected this.

The company’s managing director and CEO Stuart Whiley said: “Despite ASC’s best intentions, we have been unable to reach an agreement with the unions and their members in regard to their claims.

“We will continue to negotiate with the unions and our workers in good faith to achieve a mutually beneficial outcome.”

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