Trade unionists and community activists converged at the DP World container terminal on Swanson Dock, West Melbourne, on July 12 to support the 600 Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members midway through their four-day strike action. About 12 other unions showed their solidarity by taking part in the community assembly.
The well-attended community assembly shows there is broad support for unionists to stand their ground and send a loud message that they will not be bullied into surrendering workplace rights and conditions.
Melbourne wharfies maintained a 24-hour presence at the DP World container terminal from July 11-14. Another 1000 workers took rolling strike action at DP World depots in Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle.
MUA Victorian deputy branch secretary Dave Ball said in a media statement on July 11 that wharfies do not take strike action lightly. However, he said, “when DP World management is insisting on an agreement that will have significant and unacceptable detrimental impacts on workers” the union was left with no choice but to fight for its members’ conditions.
“Rather than bargain in good faith, management drew a line in the sand telling workers they needed to withdraw their claims entirely and accept the company’s offer if they want to reach an agreement,” Ball said.
Steve McGowan, a MUA delegate at DP World, told the community assembly: “If, in a place like this which is fully unionised, they can attack us and destroy us, then they will come for you.
“We need to think about the future: we need to think about all the young men and women, their working lives over the next 30 to 40 years. Don’t just think it’s about containers, ships or wharfies. It’s a union fight. We need to stand up, we need to fight, and we need to be united otherwise we are all in trouble.”
MUA Victorian branch secretary Shane Stevens explained the lack of bargaining progress with DP World, despite the 30 meetings that have been held since August 2018.
He explained the outstanding claims that MUA members are not prepared to moved on, including the outsourcing of cargo care, which has historically been a specialised job, adding that most have little to no cost to DP World. Stevens said that such outsourcing would allow for more casualisation of the workforce.
Another key issue is income protection for the workers. Employees contribute to a fund that supports families of DP World employees if they are injured outside the workplace. But as DP World is required to sign off on its use, it is now trying to wedge DP World workers in the hope that the union will cave on outstanding claims. Stevens described this manoeuvre as “immoral”.
DP World workers are also refusing to back down on their claim for paid family violence leave. DP World has a policy on DV, but that can be changed and it does not provide the same level of protection as a clause in a new enterprise agreement would. DP World is refusing to accept this claim, despite the company’s accreditation with White Ribbon and its managing director and CEO being a White Ribbon “ambassador”. This is both an indictment on the company, but also on White Ribbon which has been criticised over who they appoint as “ambassadors”.
DP World has refused to negotiate in good faith, and will not come to the table on low cost or no cost claims. Yet the company that has taken $500 million a year in profits over four years and has paid $0 tax in Australia.
It has also been feeding lies to the media, including Channel 10 that reported, wrongly, that striking DP World workers were holding up medical supplies.
Stevens categorically denied this and said the opposite was true. DP World approached the MUA regarding critical medical supplies that needed to be allowed through and the union facilitated the human blood plasma supplies leaving the dock.
As Stevens stated: “There is no way we are ever going to hold the Australian people to ransom over medical issues like that”.