MUA fights for conditions as Patrick uses pandemic to slash them

Port Botany. Photo: International Transport Workers Federation

A two-day conciliation hearing before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) failed to resolve a waterfront dispute between Patrick stevedores and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

The container terminal operator refused to accept the union’s October 1 offer to end its protected industrial action in return for a 2-year extension of its workplace agreement and an annual 2.5% pay rise — the industry standard.

The company insisted that, in the middle of the COVID-19 crisis, workers choose between substantially lower pay rises, or changes to their existing agreement, that would herald in casualisation and strip their job security.

Patrick said it would only accept the union’s proposal — which would have maintained the status quo on workplace rights and conditions — if workers agreed to accept pay rises a full 1% a year below those being provided by other stevedores, including Patrick’s co-owner Qube Logistics.

The FWC hearing into Patrick’s attempt to stop workers from exercising their legal rights has been adjourned until October 26.

MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer told Green Left that Patrick and the federal government’s vilification campaign against the union had been amplified by the media.

“The Patrick company, as well as the federal government, have been spreading outrageous lies about the union blocking medicines and fresh produce, even Christmas presents!

“Our only industrial action, so far, has been one four-hour stoppage and a ban on working excessive hours of overtime.

“There have been minor delays, but nothing to warrant these hysterical attacks.”

He said that the propaganda campaign could have something to do with the fact that Maurice James and Chris Corrigan, previous managers of Patricks during the maritime dispute of 1998, are part of the new ownership of Patrick.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin also rejected Patrick’s baseless claims that workers were delaying the unloading of medical supplies and exporting agricultural products.

“Our proposal does not seek to modify a single word of the existing agreement, so there is no change to the arrangements that Patrick has successfully and profitably operated their container terminals under.

“This peace deal would result in the immediate end to all industrial action at Patrick container terminals, now and for the duration of the agreement.

“It would provide certainty for farmers, exporters, and the general community, and allow Patrick and the union to refocus our efforts on the ongoing challenges posed by the COVID crisis.

“The truth is, this dispute has never been about money; it’s been about Patrick’s desire to slash the conditions of their workforce under the cover of the COVID crisis,” he said.

“If the company steps back from their proposal to slash 50 pages of conditions from the current agreement — clauses that govern things like rosters, hours of work, and family-friendly provisions — we could have an agreement today that ends this dispute.”

The company is pushing for greater “flexibility” in workplace agreements: it wants to remove what it describes as prescriptive rules that dictate terms and conditions on the docks and is using the emergency pandemic workplace provisions to push this.

At the same time, the federal government is trying to make workplace “flexibility” permanent including “award simplification” — which is code for reducing conditions.

[This article was updated on October 2.]

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