Unions call for evacuation investigation on Barrow Island

Trade unions in WA will call on Worksafe to investigate evacuation procedures undertaken by Chevron in the lead up to the latest cyclone incident on Barrow Island.

Australian Manufacturing Worker’s Union WA state secretary Steve McCartney said the union is presently working with the Electrical Trades Union and CFMEU to make a request for investigation in writing to Worksafe WA.

“We are calling on Worksafe to do an inquiry into the incident and into their cyclone procedure and make that a public report,” McCartney said.

Employees at Chevron’s Gorgon Project have also expressed their disappointment with the handling of evacuations ahead of Cyclone Olwyn.

Workers have taken to social media with their complaints about having been given no option to evacuate the island despite contractual stipulations that they would be evacuated in the event of a cyclone.

In the lead up to the cyclone, workers were told to nominate whether they wished to stay on the island and continue to be paid 12 hours per day, or they could be evacuated and be paid 7.2 hours for each day off.

According to the AMWU, one contractor had 70 employees nominate for evacuation, and was later told that only 10 employees would be allowed to leave the island.

Australian Mining understands that approximately 1000 workers who wished to leave the island were unable due to flooding of the access road to the airport and flooding of the airport itself.

The AMWU said Chevron should have evacuated the island much sooner, and had left the evacuation until the last minute in a bid for “profit over safety”.

“The blokes were sleeping on cardboard boxes because there weren’t enough blow-up mattresses for everyone,” McCartney said.

“The blokes were absolutely pissed off, because at the end of the day they had confidence that Chevron’s procedure was going to work, and we believe they’ve put profit before safety.

“With all the reports coming in, there’s no way in the world that they [Chevron] didn’t know that they shouldn’t have left it this late.”

It was also suggested that Chevron blamed the presence of too many birds on the runway for not being able to evacuate staff.

Workers and union representatives have blamed Chevron for failing to adequately prepare for employee evacuation.

Workers were also concerned about their ordinary single persons quarters were only rated for category 2 cyclones, despite Cyclone Olwyn being rated at Category 3, requiring them to take shelter in common areas.

Barrow Island has a history of tropical cyclone weather, with the strongest ever wind speed reading of 408 km/h taken at the island in April 1996.

McCartney said it should be questioned how the local shire council allowed Chevron to construct low cyclone rating buildings on an island which is regularly subjected

Workers are also disgruntled with having to be moved from their single rooms to sleep on air mattresses in common areas, which were reported to be crowded conditions.

Commenters on the Australian Mining website have suggested that demobilisation efforts only took place when the cyclone was 1000 kilometres from the island, and that would be inadequate time to evacuate all staff wishing to leave.

“…its only at the last moment that the remainder staff and residents are sent to cv. There is a cyclone management plan in place where they start demobing when the cyclone is 1000km out. The problem is…logistics..9000 people on jsland..flights out..getting the authorisation to land in Perth…so unfortunately some people have to stay on there and be inconvenienced for a few days…it is what it is,” one commenter said.

CFMEU WA state secretary Mick Buchan said Chevron should have evacuated workers earlier, ABC reported.

“It's an appalling situation on Barrow Island,” he said.

“There is up to 1,600 workers that are just left in cluster areas, common areas, in the accommodation that's designed to withstand the cyclones when they come through.

“They've left it too little too late and they've put these people, these workers at risk, and put them all in these common areas, instead of evacuating them at the appropriate time.”

Australian Mining has approached Chevron for comment.

The below is a picture from the Wheatstone Project, where workers were forced to use cardboard boxes as matresses while sheltering froim Cyclone Olwyn.

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