Green Left Weekly’s ROBIN MAYO caught up with MICH-ELLE MYERS on August 23, a family day at Port Botany in support of the workers sacked by Hutchinson Ports. Myers is a national officer for the Maritime Union of Australia.
Why is the Hutchison dispute so important?
The Hutchison dispute is important because it is waking the community up about why we need to get rid of the Abbott government. It helps the community realise how anti-worker this government is. It thinks it’s OK for people to be sacked by SMS and email in the middle of the night.
What are the latest developments?
We’re still here — 19 days later!
We’re still trying to negotiate with the company: there are legal proceedings still going on. At the moment the 97 sacked workers in Brisbane and Sydney are still not being allocated work. They are not allowed in — their cards cannot access the building and they can’t get their gear.
How are the workers and their families coping?
They are under a lot of strain, both the workers going in each day to work and those who aren’t allowed in. Those going in are under extreme pressure and it upsets them that their workmates aren’t going in with them.
There’s also a lot of stress among the partners of the sacked workers and the non-sacked workers. Workers can access Hunterlink, a counselling service set up by the MUA and Construcution, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, but no-one should be put under this type of stress by their employer.
What’s your assessment of the support being shown by unions, the community and internationally?
The support has been overwhelming, absolutely incredible. All of the unions have been here. Community groups, students, socialists and others have come down, brought food and hung around to say g’day. It has been amazing.
What is the biggest issue facing maritime workers right now?
These attacks on stevedoring are insane. There’s already high casualisation in the industry. But the sheer fact that a boss can get rid of 97 workers tomorrow means we’re under attack everywhere.
In addition, the Abbott government wants to deregulate shipping completely, open our coasts to exploited foreign seafarers and get rid of skilled Australian seafarers.
What inspires you most about the union movement today?
We’ve still got fight in us. We always at our best in a blue and this dispute has shown that. It doesn’t matter whether you’re right, left, or in middle, everybody’s jumping on board to fight. The sheer fact that workers are willing to have a go, stand up and fight back shows we are still relevant and we’ve still got power.
Would you like to add anything else?
The waterfront has changed so much since [the Patrick’s lockout in] 1998. Today, the face of the waterfront is young women and single mothers. Hutchison Ports sacked 95% of the women who worked here and the community has shown its outrage that the company can do that. The women who have stood up and fought back are true warriors — and that needs to be mentioned.