Hutchison assembly stands firm against eviction threat

Issue 

The community assembly outside the Hutchison terminal at Port Botany is holding firm against a threat by the NSW Port Authority to evict the gathering from the entrance to the facility. There was a similar stand-off at Fishermans Island, Port of Brisbane.

The assemblies have been maintained for more than four weeks to protest against the sacking of 97 waterside workers by the giant Hutchison company, part of the biggest multinational stevedoring corporation in the world.

The sackings, by text message and email at midnight on August 6, provoked widespread outrage among unionists and the public.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) won a federal court injunction to order the temporary reinstatement of the sacked workers while talks in Fair Work Australia continue.

However, while all employees are now being paid at least until October 14, Hutchison management have refused to roster on the laid-off workers.

The NSW Port Authority issued a notice of eviction to the Hutchison assembly to be complied with by 5pm on September 3. The Brisbane assembly also received an eviction order.

Calls for a mobilisation of supporters from other unions and the public went out and several hundred people gathered at the Hutchison terminal entrance in Sydney that afternoon. A similar gathering took place in Brisbane.

In the face of this community support, the port authorities appear to have had second thoughts, and managers arrived to assure the gathering that the eviction order would not go ahead.

MUA Sydney branch assistant secretary Joe Deakin told the crowd on September 2 that the authority had even agreed to arrange for rubbish from the community assembly to be collected each day.

"We're not going anywhere," Deakin told the gathering. "This 'village of struggle' will continue until we win a fair result."

Paddy Gibson then addressed the crowd about the victory of the Redfern Aboriginal Tent Embassy in winning their 15-month-long campaign to have Aboriginal housing guaranteed at The Block.

Paul McAleer, MUA Sydney branch secretary, told the crowd: "Redfern shows that if you stand strong, you can win. We're not going away until we get justice.

"The Hong Kong owners of Hutchison are threatening to close down or mothball their Australian operations. We need the ships to come back to Hutchison’s to save jobs."

He thanked maritime workers, other unions, the community and other supporters, including left organisations such as Socialist Alliance and others for their solidarity.

At the Port Botany assembly, third-generation former waterside worker Craig Tretheway told Green Left Weekly: "These Hutchison workers have been dismissed to destabilise and deunionise the workforce. I'm doing everything I can to help."

Retired veteran wharfie Bob Howard said: "I was involved in the big Patricks waterfront dispute in 1998. The same issues are at play here.

"The employers want to minimise the number of permanent, unionised workers on the job and maximise casual employment — all intended to increase their profits."

Rory Hart, another MUA member, told GLW: "It is heartwarming to see people from all over the community come down here to support the Hutchison workers. This is a defining moment in the general union struggle.

"If we don't stand up and fight back, the rest of the Australian workforce might be getting text messages at midnight telling them they are fired."

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