- The Guardian
- Issue #1979
Even before COVID-19, working on the ports could be a dangerous business, so when workers for Qube at Fremantle Ports asked their employer to implement health and safety provisions fifteen months ago they expected their uncontroversial demands to be met – they weren’t. As a result of Qube’s inaction, worker’s went on strike in what has now been a near two-month long struggle with the logistics provider giant.
However, health and safety claims aren’t the only grievances on the table. The MUA has been trying to get Qube to improve shift and fatigue management practices at the port. The MUA claims that all workers – including permanents – are told by text message if they have to work the next day and on which shift. They are the last port workers at Qube not to have an agreement. “Not one worker employed by Qube in Fremantle Ports has a roster,” said MUA WA secretary Will Tracey, further stating that “[t]his is no way for a company to treat its workforce.”
In response to the workers standing firm in its demands, Qube has brought in scab labour which, according to the MUA, is taking approximately four times as long as union labour to do the job, wreaking havoc on the wharves. In August, Qube Management was caught working without personal protective equipment leaving the MUA to ask the government to suspend the company’s stevedoring licence.
The lack of union labour is hitting Qube where it hurts – their pockets. In retaliation, Qube has pulled in their friends in the mainstream media to pressure the MUA. Through the Financial Review, Qube has made claims that the union has been contacting its clients “via its union network in Europe and Japan and threatening them with black bans and an international backlash if they continue to work with the stevedoring company.” The MUA has rejected the claims, describing them as “garbage” and nothing more than retribution as indications suggest that Qube may lose its largest customer Wallenius Wilhelmsen – a major shipping company.
The claim, of course, makes zero sense with MUA WA secretary Will Tracey stating that such an idea would be “working against our own interests.”
However, the workers and the MUA are not alone in their struggle. They’ve been receiving financial assistance from the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU), Electrical Trade Union (ETU), Transport Workers’ Union, and the Construction Division of the CFMEU.
At a Rally, WA AWU branch secretary Andy Hacking spoke to the solidarity the MUA showed during its 2018 strike with Alcoa. Those workers have returned the support by contributing $10,000 to assist Qube workers.
Likewise, ETU branch organiser Adam Leech delivered a $5000 cheque to the Qube workers.
Qube, like a lot of major corporations during this pandemic, have made massive profits, having made $17.5 million. On top of this, Qube also received $30 million in JobKeeper, returning $17 million after public pressure.
We must stand in solidarity with Qube workers against their employer’s anti-worker practices. If you can, donate to the strike fundraiser by contacting your local MUA branch via www.mua.org.au.