Hutchison Port workers: 'Proud of our efforts'

November 19, 2015
Port Botany rally supporting the workers who had been sacked by text and email.

“We're all very happy and proud of our efforts in this dispute: 106 days ago we didn't have a job and now we are going back inside,” a waterfront worker at the Hutchison Port Botany community assembly told Green Left Weekly on November 19.

He was commenting on the settlement agreed between Hutchison management and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) to bring to an end conclusion the long-running industrial battle over the jobs of 97 workers sacked by text and email on the night of August 6.

“We and our families are pleased with the result, after all the emotional drama and sacrifice we all have been through,” he said.

The Hutchison workers voted on November 16 to endorse a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) which will allow all sacked workers to return to their jobs, while a number of the employees have agreed to accept enhanced voluntary redundancy (EVR) packages. Those accepting EVRs will have the right to return to employment at Hutchisons within the next two years, whenever work picks up at the company's two sites, Port Botany in Sydney and the Port of Brisbane.

The new EBA includes much improved redundancy entitlements and other conditions. MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer told GLW, “We have been able to secure not only the jobs of every employee, but overall maintain conditions of employment and advance in some areas.

“In the areas of dispute resolution, safety and other issues, we have improved the position. The company was not successful in imposing many of its log of claims, including reduction in superannuation entitlements, and job classifications.

“The company wanted to increase hours of work from 30 per week to 35. We have held the line at 32 hours a week, which is above industry standards.

“This is a tremendous victory, given the starting point of this dispute. The conflict was basically an attempt by Hutchisons to destroy jobs and conditions across the whole waterfront. If we had lost this dispute, we could have ended up losing across the whole industry.

“While the Hutchison dispute was not as large and as brutal as the Patricks confrontation of 1998, the consequences of losing would have been just as serious. If companies can have the ability to contract out work willy nilly, no worker in this country is safe.

“Following the courageous decision of the workers to make a stand, they have been backed by MUA members, other unions, progressive political parties and community activists.

“International solidarity from maritime and waterfront unions world-wide has been crucial. All this has allowed the Hutchison workers to achieve an important victory.

“This struggle shows that when workers use all kinds of campaigning methods to wage their industrial struggles, they can win.”

MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said on November 16, “The agreement is a major victory for all Hutchison workers.

“The key components of the former agreement have been retained. The new agreement has cemented the best safety clauses in the industry — in fact, any industry. The agreement is a step forward for workers and delivers a victory of common sense over anti-worker ideology.

“The achievement is testament to the character of all the Hutchison workers who have braced wind, hail and shine at the two community assemblies in Brisbane and Sydney and remained united, determined to beat an injustice which was not acceptable in a modern workplace or society.

“I extend further gratitude to other unions, both locally and internationally, and the wider community for showing their solidarity at the assemblies, and through the thousands of letters of support we received. It was because of them we were able to maintain morale for the sacked workers. This struggle was a genuine coming together of the local, national and international.

“Thanks to the determination of the whole of the workforce and their supporters in Australia and internationally, common sense has prevailed. This has been a long, hard go. We have been forced into a battle with the world's biggest stevedore, and we have won the battle by returning to a mutually agreed outcome.”

The community assemblies will remain in place for at least a couple of weeks, until all the workers are able to go back inside.

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