Australia's Woodside ordered to bargain with unions on pay deal

Preparation for World Gas Conference 2022 in Daegu
Australia's Woodside Energy Group's exhibition booth is seen at the World Gas Conference 2022 in Daegu, South Korea May 23, 2022. REUTERS/Florence Tan

MELBOURNE, Jan 31 (Reuters) - Australia's labour regulator has ordered Woodside Energy Ltd (WDS.AX) to bargain with its offshore platform workers on a pay deal, the latest oil and gas producer facing pressure to raise wages sharply.

The Fair Work Commission's decision is a big loss for Woodside, after it repeatedly went to court over the past year fighting a push by the Australian Workers Union (AWU) for a union-led wage deal.

The prospect of industrial action looms at the company's North West Shelf gas platforms if wage talks are drawn out. Gas from those platforms feeds the North West Shelf liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant, the country's biggest LNG producer.

Woodside said it was reviewing the commission's decision.

"We have directly engaged with our workforce for decades, and continue to do so on an ongoing basis to ensure we have the right settings in place to support the best outcomes for our teams and for the company," a Woodside spokesperson said.

Last year, Shell (SHEL.L) battled unions in a bitter fight at its Prelude LNG site off northwest Australia, which the energy giant shut down at an estimated cost of $1 billion in lost LNG exports until it reached a deal.

Woodside, which last year raised base pay rates by 10% for its offshore workers, contested the AWU's argument that a majority of workers wanted the union to bargain for them.

Woodside also said its contract terms with workers were better in some aspects than the union-led pay deal that offshore workers won last year from Japan's Inpex Corp (1605.T) at its Ichthys operation in Australia.

That deal has been held up by the Offshore Alliance, which combines the AWU and the Maritime Union of Australia, as a benchmark for the rest of the major gas producers.

The Offshore Alliance hailed the commission's decision, saying on its Facebook page that it would be a "learning curve" for Woodside human resources bosses who had never had to collectively negotiate with the workforce over the last 30-plus years.

Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Jamie Freed

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.