Deckhands fight for jobs

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Deckhands fight for jobs

By Robert Darcy

SYDNEY — Two hundred tugboat deckhands and their supporters gathered at Circular Quay on February 17 to protest efforts by Adsteam, the country's largest tugboat operator, to cut crew numbers from four to three.

Currently, tugs are crewed by a master, an engineer and two deckhands. Adsteam wants to train the engineer in deckhand duties and abolish the second deckhand. Adsteam's proposal would compromise safety.

On November 26, deckhand members of the Maritime Union of Australia struck for 24 hours. Adsteam refused to back down.

The MUA has indicated that it is prepared to consider a compromise, under which cutbacks to crew numbers would be shared between the deckhands and the engineers (members of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers).

On February 8, MUA national secretary John Coombs said, "We believe we have been discriminated against and will do everything necessary to protect our members. We are not going to stand by and allow MUA members to be the ones who have to bear the full burden of cost reductions. It's got to be across the board."

Coombs said MUA members should have the same opportunity to train for engineer's work as engineers would have to train as deckhands. "Once that training is up and running, once we have the same opportunity as other crew, we can talk reductions", he said.

Adsteam has since taken a more aggressive approach, sending voluntary redundancy offers to MUA deckhands and threatening sackings if there were not enough "volunteers".

According to reports received by the MUA, Adsteam stitched up a deal with the AIMPE on February 15, in which the union agreed to have its engineers replace the second deckhand. The MUA responded by calling a 24-hour stoppage for February 17.

The campaign against crew reductions has been strengthened by a finding by NSW Waterways on February 15 that tugs require two general purpose deckhands to work safely.

At the February 17 protest, which marched on Adsteam's city headquarters, there was no talk of compromise and the mood was confident that four-person crews would be retained.

Adsteam is expected to appeal NSW Waterways' decision (which only applies to NSW harbours) and has so far only offered to suspend, but not revoke, the redundancy offer. Redundancy is still being offered to Queensland and WA workers. Industrial action is expected in WA ports on February 21.

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