Submarine dispute sinks further – workers call for CEO resignation


By Peter Roberts

Relations between workers and management at submarine builder ASC have sunk even lower with members of the trade unions on the site unanimously issuing a vote of no confidence in the CEO’s leadership.

Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union (AMWU) SA Assistant State Secretary Stuart Gordon said around 300 members across the AMWU, AWU and ETU want to see ASC CEO Stuart Whiley – who recently secured a 31% wage increase of $250,000 – ousted.

Gordon said: “This is a 100% majority no confidence vote…He should be sacked effective immediately.

“Workers expect the CEO to address unequal pay experienced by SA tradespeople, but he continues to shirk off his responsibilities.”

ASC workers in Adelaide went on strike earlier this month over claims that workers in Western Australia receive around 17% on average more than ASC workers in South Australia.

ASC and BAE Systems Australia, both located at the Osborne Naval Shipyard, have been selected to construct the nuclear powered SSN-AUKUS submarine type envisaged under the tripartite AUKUS agreement with the UK and USA.

The union said the Adelaide-based CEO has not attended any negotiation meeting despite many requests from the AMWU.

Whiley, Managing Director & CEO of ASC Pty Ltd, rejected this reading of his actions in a media statement last night.

Whiley said: “I have complete trust in my Executive Team’s ability to undertake these negotiations with the AMWU- this is a normal and acceptable position for a large company such as ours.

“While I do not attend these negotiations, I am fully briefed on the outcomes and will continue to work collaboratively with the Executive Team towards achieving a mutually beneficial outcome for ASC, the AMWU and its members.”

ASC’s statement said the Managing Director’s salary banding is set and governed by the Australian Remuneration Tribunal, which is independent of ASC.

ASC have taken a hard line on the striking workers, withdrawing a more favourable pay offer at the outset of the dispute.

ASC’s logic is that the WA labour market is tighter than SA’s, and therefore workers do not need to be rewarded at the same level to attract staff.

However ASC is located next door to BAE Systems which is constructing Hunter class frigates in Adelaide where it employs 1,400 and has a recruiting campaign underway.

Once ASC moves to build SSN-AUKUS submarines the company will need to attract a workforce of 4,000 at Osborne, suggesting a competitive wage would need to be offered.

However the need for 4,000 could be a decade away.

Whatever the merits of the dispute the offer on the table, according to ASC’s statement, is for an average increase of 12%, with ‘further opportunities for the employees to achieve additional increases through arbitration’ by the Fair Work Commission.

“If supported by the Fair Work Commission, this offer provides the opportunity for employees to achieve their wage position.

“ASC continues to negotiate with the Unions and their members despite their rejection of all reasonable offers made by ASC to end this dispute.

“The AMWU’s protected industrial action is not currently disrupting the availability of the Collins class submarines to the Royal Australian Navy, nor ASC’s work on Australia’s build and sustainment of conventionally armed, nuclear powered submarines.”

One thing is certain, a bitter industrial dispute is regrettable given the many difficult years ahead for Australia as it acquires the technology and the workforce to build nuclear powered submarines.

Further reading:
ASC pledges to work with striking workers but cuts pay offer – report
BAE Systems, ASC to construct Australian n-submarines

Picture: ASC/Stuart Whiley, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director

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