Maritime union wins groundbreaking agreement with Hutchison Ports

July 2, 2021
Photo: Maritime Union of Australia

After three years of tough negotiations, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) won a groundbreaking workplace agreement with the world’s largest stevedoring company, Hutchison Ports Australia (HPA).

It sets a new industry standard at container terminals in Sydney and Brisbane.

MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul Keating told Green Left that despite the industrial situation on the waterfront “being extremely difficult” HPA workers “stuck together, fought hard and made historic gains”.

Workers will receive five 2.5% wage rises over the four-year agreement, after the Fair Work Commission certifies it.

The agreement with HPA allows for 20 days' paid domestic violence leave, permanent rosters and the ability to find alternatives to redundancies during an economic downturn.

MUA deputy national secretary Warren Smith said the agreement would strengthen job security at terminals with new protections against job cuts due to automation, technology and contractors.

It also takes a step towards addressing insecure work, putting a cap on casual employees and placing an emphasis on the rostering of permanent workers.

“Nothing in this agreement was handed to us. It took three years of unwavering determination and united action from members at the Sydney and Brisbane terminals to achieve this victory,” Smith said on June 28.

“The introduction of 20 days' paid domestic violence leave is a significant victory that will reduce the financial hardship suffered by people dealing with the challenges of violence in the home.”

Keating told GL that the biggest threat to job security on the wharves is automation and the union won a clause on technological changes that is “one of the best in the world”.

“The stevedoring companies want to use the automation process to take rights away from workers and strengthen management control even further.” The new agreement ensures workers cannot be sacked during its life.

Keating said the union also won new, groundbreaking operational rosters of 30–32 hours a week, “moving beyond the established 35-hour work week”. Keating said the company can’t establish new rosters “without agreement with the union”.

The rosters are seven weeks on and one week off. The union can now recruit 70% of the workforce, with management recruiting the rest.

The agreement includes job-sharing. “In a very male-dominated industry, like the waterfront, Hutchison workers have now achieved the highest ratio of women to men in the country,” Keating said.

It retains paid stoppage for meetings, including union annual general meetings. And it also means a right of return to employment for any workers made redundant.

“The OH&S clause is also significant,” Keating said, “because it involves collective workplace rights in a very dangerous industry”.

The union also won the retention of a 12% superannuation payment for all employees.

HPA locked out its workers in Brisbane and at Port Botany in Sydney in 2015, a dispute that lasted more than four months. It was the longest dispute in MUA history.

The company has been very vindictive in its industrial relations approach. “The MUA delegates and members have endured huge pressures during this three-year struggle,” Keating said.

“But they have shown tremendous leadership, commitment and solidarity. Hutchison workers are to be congratulated for their determination during this protracted campaign."

HPA and DP World have now signed new agreements, leaving the “key industrial battleground” at Patrick Stevedores, Keating said.

“Patrick's workers are experienced in industrial struggle,” Keating said. “They have a long history of standing up for their rights, going back to the massive Patrick's lockout in 1998.”

Stoppages and bans have been imposed at Patrick terminals for several weeks so far, and the campaign for a new agreement there is continuing.

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