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Issue #1872      June 12, 2019

Wharfies in struggle

Australian waterside workers employed by two of the world’s largest port operators are embroiled in disputes over two new enterprise agreements with Dubai Ports World (DPW) and Hutchison Ports Australia (HPA).

DPW operates in Sydney, Melbourne, Fremantle and Brisbane while Hutchison have terminals in Brisbane and Sydney. The issues across all of the six container terminals are similar with employers seeking to outsource work and reduce the scope of work coverage of wharfies and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) amongst other attempts to reduce overall conditions of employment.

The MUA has rejected all aspects of outsourcing. The union refuses to accept any wharfies jobs being transferred to management roles in what can only be described as a union busting exercise by both HPA and DPW.

DPW CEO Glen Hilton has made the DPW position clear, resorting to corporate threats to his workforce in the AFR on May 24 when “he warned that if the MUA does not work to improve its cost base and introduce flexibility to rosters to cope with the “peaks and troughs” of demand, DP World may be forced to consider automation.”

The MUA is seeking the inclusion of an automation clause in its DPW and HPA agreements to stave off the company’s threat to replace wharfies with robots. The only result from automation is stevedoring profits increase and lost jobs. The implementation of automation under capitalism serves two main purposes from the perspective of the boss.

They seek to bust unions and increase the rate of profit. In the stevedoring industry the stevedoring company is the only part of the supply chain that benefits from automation. The big stevedores do not pass on price savings to consumers and the immediate effect of automation is a significant reduction in quay line productivity. The actual practical results of automation clearly demonstrate the aims of big stevedores.

Automation is a big issue on the waterfront but also throughout the whole of society with significant changes and developments in technology making access to automated machinery all the more available and cheaper in various sectors and industries. Job losses are enormous with waterfront automation and the very small number of new jobs that arise from automated processes will never outweigh the numbers of jobs lost through implementing the new technology.

The broader social questions of automation are very real for workers and our communities. Capitalism, true to its form and nature, is using new technology to increase profits. The job-shedding practices clearly have a social impact with increased unemployment and further erosions for workers often under less union coverage.

The MUA has been putting forward shorter hours as a main claim in dealing with automation. This claim has seen some initial success with a 30-hour week at HPA, 31-hour rosters at Patrick, 32-hour week in DPW Brisbane. DPW Brisbane is semi-automated as are both the Hutchison terminals. Patrick terminals in Brisbane and Sydney are fully automated.

Waterfront negotiations continue and the CPA stands in solidarity with wharfies fighting to protect their jobs and conditions and standing up against automation that is implemented in the name of profit, union busting and ultimately an erosion of all our community standards.

CPA members are encouraged to offer solidarity and support to wharfies in struggle and if the situation demands members should make themselves available to stand side by side with the MUA on their pickets in struggle.

Next article – Uber decision: need for law changes

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