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Issue #1910      April 6, 2020

WATERFRONT UNION: “WE’LL FIGHT LAY-OFFS!”

A massive lay-off of waterfront workers is anticipated by the union movement as the employer, Patrick Stevedores, plans to replace its unionised workforce with non-union labour trained at Webb Dock in Melbourne.

CFMEU and MUA proudly united against Patrick's Scabadores.

A young non-union wharf trainee blew the whistle on Patrick’s plans. He said that trainees were informed that Patrick planned to sack its Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle workers.

There have also been reports of Chubb Security recruiting staff to manage a lockout of wharfies in the Port of Brisbane. Chubb was the company used on Webb Dock when Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members were locked out there.

The ACTU co-ordinated a meeting of unions last Friday to discuss ways of providing financial assistance if the mass sackings take place.

“This is arguably the most concerning dispute that the union has been confronted with in its history”, Robert Coombs, MUA NSW Central Branch Secretary, told The Guardian.

“It’s the first time that there has been an organised force out there with the will and massive political support prepared to challenge the coverage rights of the Maritime Union and also install non-union labour into Australia’s waterfront”, Robert Coombs said.

The Prime Minister John Howard and Queensland Premier Rob Borbidge have both given their support to the National Farmers’ Federation and Patrick’s in their war against the MUA.

Borbidge met with the employers last Sunday night to discuss how his government could assist in defeating the MUA.

BRISBANE

The National Farmers’ Federation has said it wants to expand its stevedoring operations to Brisbane and has sought assurances from the Queensland Industrial Relations Minister that he would assist in providing police protection of its non-union labour force and make dock space available.

The NFF is also looking to buy tug boats, giving it its own fleet of non-union tugs to ensure it can operate.

John Coombs, National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), said the union was prepared to stage a national strike of its members, affecting all stevedore companies, if Patrick sacked its entire unionised workforce.

Mass sackings would bring the dispute with Patrick and the Federal Government to a head. The outcome would depend on the strength of the MUA, the Australian trade union movement as a whole and international support.

National action by the MUA in defence of sacked members could bring the union and striking members up against the full force of the Workplace Relations Act, with employers and third parties suing them for millions of dollars.

The Australian Workers’ Union announced last week that it would recommend a national strike of oil refinery workers if Patrick sacked waterfront workers.

The Federal Government and its competition watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, responded with a threat of legal action and heavy fines under the secondary boycott provisions in the Trades Practices Act.

The ACTU and MUA may, however, continue to confine industrial action to the waterfront.

ACTIONS CONTINUE

The MUA met last Friday with Patrick in an attempt to make progress with the EBA for Patrick workers at its four major ports, Fremantle, Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

Robert Coombs said those discussions “weren’t very fruitful”.

The union is seeking to preserve a number of existing award conditions in EBAs when the award is stripped back to twenty “allowable matters” as required by the Workplace Relations Act.

Patrick’s Brisbane workers went on a four-day strike last Friday over the company’s lack of commitment to EBA negotiations but decided to return on Monday, a day early.

Wharfies at Patrick’s Port Botany terminal in Sydney returned to work last Tuesday after a seven-day strike. They were due to commence another seven-day strike on Tuesday this week.

POLICE ON WHARVES

In a separate dispute at Port Botany, police took over wharfies’ jobs after they refused to load a shipment of nuclear waste at P&O Ports CTAL terminal because of safety concerns and a lack of consultation.

Not only were the workers given little warning that they would be handling nuclear waste, but when they refused, the company sought an order from the Industrial Relations Commission for them to load it.

MUA Assistant National Secretary, Vic Slater said, “We were given little warning of what was happening. It was all at short notice, under the cover of darkness, presumably to avoid protests by environmental groups.”

Mr Slater said, “Instead of sitting down and alleviating the workers’ fears over safety and environmental factors, management went to the Industrial Relations Commission, ordering our members to work the vessel.

“When the delegate on the job and the portainer crane operator refused to load the containers, the company threatened them with dismissal. At this point all labour walked off the job”, said Mr Slater.

The company called in the police who helped load the vessel.

This article appeared in The Workers’ Weekly Guardian April, 1998.

Next article – OUR HOSPITALS DESPERATELY ILL

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