Court rejects fines against MUA in Hutchison dispute

Hutchinson Ports in 2015. Photo: Jim McIlroy

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has welcomed as a “victory for common sense” a Federal Court decision on June 21 to reject massive fines sought by the Fair Work Ombudsman (FWO) over the Hutchison Ports dispute three years ago.

On August 6, 2015, Hutchison Ports Australia sacked 100 workers at its Port Botany terminal by text message the day before many were due to go on shift. The company then placed guards on the gates and workers were not even allowed to clear out their lockers.

The MUA responded with a massive community-based campaign, featuring a 24-hour, four-month-long occupation at the entrance to the terminal.

After 136 days of struggle, Hutchison was forced to relent and, after the sacked workers returned to the job, the MUA negotiated a new agreement with Hutchison. The campaign was supported by unions from around Australia and internationally.

MUA national secretary and International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) president Paddy Crumlin said: “The Australian community got behind Hutchison workers because they understood that if more than 100 workers could be sacked by text at midnight, it could happen to them too.

“The community understood that the conduct of Hutchison was a shabby, mean-spirited and heartbreaking attack on an innocent workforce. The union fought for 136 days to save their jobs, and we were ultimately successful, but instead of punishing a rogue employer the Fair Work Ombudsman chased the union for protecting our members’ jobs.

“The Fair Work Ombudsman's claim for $3.7 million in penalties and $600,000 in compensation to Hutchison was outrageous and shows that the system is broken. The Federal Court comprehensively rejected the FWO case for compensation and reduced the fine to 1% of what the FWO was seeking.

“This decision was a win for common sense and demonstrates that the fight must go on to change the rules, so workers and their unions can get a fair go from the industrial relations system.”