By Nick Markin
SYDNEY — In the midst of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and P&O's Container Terminals Australia Ltd (CTAL), management at Port Botany has abolished 34 crane chaser positions.
Following the loss of the positions in late September, P&O alleged that workers had conducted a five-week go-slow. Import companies have threatened legal action, and the NSW Labor government has offered to intervene.
P&O management claims that the abolition of the chasers (who walk behind containers as they are moved by gantry crane operators to waiting trucks) is a legitimate trial approved by the Industrial Relations Commission and NSW WorkCover.
Jim Donovan, the MUA central NSW branch deputy secretary, argues that the chasers should be maintained on safety grounds to ensure that containers are positioned correctly.
Donovan, a member of the Communist Party of Australia, said reinstatement of the crane chasers was the union's bottom line. This contradicts the MUA's federal office, which appears to have accepted the loss of jobs after a WorkCover investigation sided with P&O.
Donovan denied claims of a go-slow by wharfies.
The MUA federal council voted on October 28 to direct the central NSW branch to lift all bans and limitations at the Port Botany terminal. It is understood that Donovan refused to assist in implementing the decision.
On October 29, the national directive to lift the bans was rejected by a mass meeting of Sydney wharfies by two to one, defying federal officials who had addressed the meeting.
Donovan has denied that the central NSW branch has fallen out with the federal office. However, union sources claim that Donovan is becoming isolated and, if he defies federal council directive, could be subject to disciplinary action.
The NSW Road Transport Association claims that members have incurred daily losses of $300,000 due to hold-ups on Sydney's wharves.
NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr backed the importers' claims with his own attack on the wharfies. "Their job is to get those goods moving ... They ought to stop mucking around", Carr said.
State industrial relations minister Jeff Shaw offered to help broker a peace deal and blamed the dispute on the Howard government's dismantling of the arbitration powers of the Industrial Relations Commission.
Donovan has also come under attack for criticising the Patrick-MUA deal, which he initially spoke in favour of and voted for at mass meetings.
CTAL wharfies are concerned that the 12-hour shifts and the management-controlled rosters contained in the Patrick deal will be a part of the P&O agreement.