Approximately 50 water front workers protested at fuel giant Caltex’s office in the CBD on September 29 after finding out the company had hired contractor Ports and Harbour Services to provide non-union vessel mooring staff.
The workers wanted to meet with the Caltex Australia CEO, who refused.
Shane Reside, MUA Sydney branch organiser, told Green Left that during enterprise agreement negotiations in March, mooring company NMS Botany suddenly closed its doors, sacking its entire unionised workforce “to get around having to make a new agreement”.
The owners blamed the COVID-19 pandemic and market conditions for the decision.
Just as the pandemic was hitting, the remaining lines workers, who tie and untie ships on Sydney harbor, had to work around the clock to keep the port open.
Six months later, the owners re-launched the company under a different name — Ports and Harbour Services — and started employing people in Kurnell and Port Botany without a union agreement.
“This action, designed to cut pay and conditions, has been rejected by the MUA and the maritime community, along with other working class supporters,” Reside said. “We want the company to cease operating with scab labour.”
MUA Sydney branch deputy secretary Paul Keating told the protest that shutting down a company to try and dodge paying industry rates and undermine competitors is “the oldest trick in the book”.
“This kind of bottom-feeding behavior will never be allowed to take root in the Sydney maritime industry. What we see here, yet again, is an example of a company using the excuse of the COVID-19 pandemic in the most cynical way.
“We will defend our members’ right to work – no matter the cost,” Keating said, adding that Caltex and other maritime industry players should withdraw all relations with the “pariah company”.
Police attended the scene shortly after the workers arrived and demanded they leave or face arrest. The workers left chanting, “Shame, Caltex, shame!,” and pledging to escalate their campaign.
Since September 21, Ports and Harbour Services have been contracted by Caltex to moor and unmoor ships carrying fuel into Sydney. Since then, MUA members have been campaigning against every vessel on land and at sea.
“This is an industrial dispute. We’re seeing NSW Water Police escorting scab vessels, aiding and abetting an employer that is trying to take food from the mouths of union members’ families,” Keating said.
“This is only the beginning; this fight will not end until we see this company gone. If Caltex and Ports and Harbour Services think that we’re going away, they have one hell of a shock coming. This scab company thinks they can just sail in and do whatever they want. Well, we’ll see about that.”
The MUA dispute with Ports and Harbour Services comes as tensions escalate with container stevedoring operators in Port Botany.
“Port and Harbour Services seem to think that the MUA is distracted by what’s happening with the stevedores and that they can slip under the radar. They have badly underestimated how seriously our members take this kind of threat,” Keating said.
This dispute comes as Caltex Australia is seeking to distance itself from the bad international reputation of multinational oil corporations and re-brand itself as the former well-known local company, Ampol.
“This is classic behaviour we’ve come to expect from multinational oil barons. This is Caltex’s chance to change its ways and do the right thing by workers,” Keating said.
“The port community despise scabs and the companies that employ them. There should be laws that protect workers from sham contracting, phoenix companies and police-protected union busting,” Keating said. “We will never allow union busting in Port Botany – not now, not ever.”
The MUA leaders said that there would be more community actions if Caltex or any other company refuses to cancel its contracts with Port and Harbour Services.
They also invited all those who support justice in the workplace to boycott Caltex products and services “until they do the right thing by the community”.
Solidarity and support for the lines workers has begun to flow in from overseas, including from the Jakarta docker’s union in Indonesia (SPJICT).
[As Green Left went to print, Reside reported that Ports and Harbour Services had "suspended all work at Port Botany indefinitely".]