More than 100 maritime workers and trade unionists protested outside Svitzer Australia tug boat operators on June 28 demanding it reinstate local tug boat crews who had been replaced by labour hire contractors.
The workers made redundant by Svitzer last December were joined by fellow Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members, along with other unionists, to demand that local workers be given their jobs back.
Svitzer provides towage in more than 30 countries around the world. It is owned by Maersk, the biggest multinational shipping company in the world.
In December, Svitzer sacked 18 locals, saying that Geelong was no longer a viable port.
Yet, as MUA Deputy Victorian Branch Secretary David Ball, who chaired the protest, said: “Just six months later, we discovered that the company plans to restart operations using fly-in fly-out labour hire workers”.
“It appears Svitzer never really intended to leave Geelong” Ball said. “It just manufactured this arrangement where it could terminate its entire local workforce and use a sham contracting arrangement with a labour hire company that has no experience in maritime towage to slash costs.”
Anthony Krusty Baker, one of the sacked workers, told the protest that in his 28 years of seafaring he had never been treated so badly.
“I’ve worked for a lot of employers in my time, but have never been treated like a piece of dirt like the way me and my fellow workmates were treated by Svitzer. After six years on the tugs, I was discarded like rubbish, four days before Christmas!”
Victorian Trades Hall Secretary Luke Hilakari, who addressed the rally, said that the sackings were not just a local issue. He said Svitzer would have spent months planning how to save money and that included busting the union and sacking workers. “Labour hire is one of the most evil things in this nation. It gets rid of full time jobs, ripping out workers’ pay and conditions.”
Ball emphasised that point, saying that Svitzer had refused to reinstate the workers “despite these former tug crews being the most experienced people for the job”. He said they had “exceptional knowledge of how to safely and efficiently undertake tug operations at the Port of Geelong”.
MUA National Secretary Christy Cain also addressed the protest, saying the Victorian Labor government “had form” when it came to siding with anti-union multinational companies that try to destroy workers’ pay and conditions.
He cited a 2019 dispute with the Victorian International Container Terminal which tried to bring in a non-union agreement which would have halved the workers’ wages.
The unions won that dispute, Cain said, adding that it is time to stop the government allowing rogue companies, such as Svitzer, into the state in the first place.
“We put a Labor government into power not to destroy us, but to work with us [and] not bring in scab labour on lesser rates of pay and conditions.” He said that parliaments need more unionists.
The protest voted to call on the Federal Deputy Opposition leader Richard Marles, who is also the MP for Corio, to attend next rally and explain Labor’s position.