Melbourne wharfies remain suspended over quarantine dispute

Photo: Martime Union of Australia/Facebook

Waterside workers at the DP World terminal in the Port of Melbourne remain suspended on pay as a dispute over quarantine conditions continues.

The workers walked off the job on March 30 after refusing to unload a vessel that had docked in breach of the federal government’s 14-day COVID-19 quarantine period.

Members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said they were concerned about safety and the threat of COVID-19 contamination.

Since their action, Australian Border Force and the federal health department have issued clearer guidelines regarding ships and coronavirus quarantine.

A union member told Green Left that workers are now using sprays to disinfect surfaces and taking improved personal protective equipment onto vessels. They are also requesting that onboard crew stay away from the unloading operation.

The DP World dispute is now before the Fair Work Commission, but the company has not turned up to several hearings, so it remains unresolved.

MUA Victorian branch deputy secretary Dave Ball told GL that while the union “strongly supports the health and safety of our workers ... we are also concerned about the safety of international seafarers”.

“One thing we don’t want happening is another disaster like the Ruby Princess, where the total lack of safety measures has resulted in multiple deaths and illnesses from the pandemic.”

Workers’ safety amid the COVID-19 pandemic is a major concern. Wharfies employed by Qube Ports recently walked off the job in Fremantle, Western Australia, after numerous breaches of Border Force restrictions on commercial maritime vessels and crew.

Container terminal operator Hutchison Ports withheld coronavirus information from their Port of Sydney workforce, allowing the site to operate despite a worker testing positive for COVID-19. The worker had undertaken six shifts in the terminal since March 24. A second positive coronavirus case has now come to light.

MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said Hutchison is operating as if it is not part of the global pandemic. “They just want to work away like it’s business as usual.

Smith said Hutchison should be prosecuted. “We think that hiding facts about exposure to COVID-19 from workers, and risking their transmission, is a criminal act.”

Several wharfies at Hutchison are in isolation due to COVID-19. The MUA is demanding an urgent meeting with NSW Health and the company.