The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the International Transport Federation (ITF) criticised moves by ports operator Patrick Terminals to cancel the enterprise agreement (EA) with its employees and replace it with basic award rates.
The MUA and ITF said that terminating the collective agreement would mean a 50% wage cut for 1000 wharfies in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle. It would also end overtime and night shift provisions and limit workers to a 35-hour work week.
This would end Patrick Terminals’ 24/7 surge in operations over the pandemic. MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul Keating told Green Left that Patrick’s move would mean “reversing gains made over more than 30 years of struggle”.
“If this dispute goes ahead, it would be a disaster for the waterfront industry. Other stevedoring companies would not be able to pick up the slack.” Keating said the MUA is seeking solidarity from unions around the world and is receiving broad support. “Our members are ready for a fight if Patrick goes ahead with its plans,” he said.
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said it is “staggering” that Patrick Terminals is threatening to deepen the supply chain crisis by “tearing up the industrial agreement with workers who have toiled 24/7 throughout this pandemic to keep their ports moving”.
Patrick applied to the Fair Work Commission in October to terminate its workforce EA. It is a growing trend for big employers. Qantas Airlines, tug operator Svitzer and competing towage provider Smit Lamnalco have recently done the same.
The MUA and Patrick Terminals have been at loggerheads over the terms of their contract for nearly two years, and the union has organised rolling slow-downs and shutdowns in protest.
The union has successfully negotiated EAs with all other Australian container terminal operators and said it is only asking Patrick for the same terms.
The MUA even called on national cabinet to intervene on January 20. It said the EA termination would have a “catastrophic” impact on shifts and productivity, and would end Patrick’s ability to operate 24 hours a day. Patrick said changes to pay and rosters would not come into effect until six months after the EA is terminated.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said Patrick would “throw a spanner in the works of Australian port operations” if it terminates the EA. MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn said the union “is not seeking anything more from Patricks than has already been agreed to by other stevedoring companies”.
ACTU president Michele O’Neil described Patrick’s attempt to cut its employees’ wages in half as “bare-faced profiteering” in the middle of a pandemic. “The union movement stands with dock workers — and all essential workers — who deserve to be rewarded for their tireless efforts over the last two years, not punished.” She said the federal government should condemn any company that attempts to cut wages and harm essential workers during the pandemic.
Svitzer Tugs is also seeking to terminate its EA with tugboat workers. MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn said on January 18 that despite the cooperation of three unions — the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers, the Australian Marine Officers Union and the MUA — the company is refusing to bargain in good faith.
“A recent ballot of Svitzer’s employees for the take-it-or-leave-it deal management put forward came back with a resounding 92% refusal,” Newlyn said. “This should send a clear message to Svitzer management that the deal they put on the table is unfair and unreasonable.”
Svitzer is also trying to force its workers onto the basic award, which will make impossible for round-the-clock operations at to continue. The consequences cannot be overstated, Newlyn said, adding that “Svitzer must not be allowed to cut adrift their loyal workers at such a difficult time”.
[You can support the Maritime Union of Australia’s campaign against Patricks here.]