The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has rejected an "arbitrary deadline" of April 15 for acceptance of Patrick Stevedores' "final offer" on a new enterprise agreement (EA) for its waterfront workforce.
Patrick set a 36-hour deadline on April 14 for the MUA to accept the new enterprise agreement or the company would consider taking "penalty action" against workers in Sydney, Fremantle, Melbourne and Brisbane, which reportedly includes a lock-out.
The union rejected the April 15 deadline, saying it was reviewing the offer and would respond by April 22. The MUA and Patrick have been locked in bitter dispute over a new EA for almost two years.
Patrick is now seeking to bypass the MUA and put the offer to a direct vote of employees. The union defied the company by proceeding with a 48-hour strike in Brisbane, with another 48-hour stoppage set to go ahead in Melbourne, following a two-day strike at Port Botany in Sydney.
MUA deputy national secretary Will Tracey said balloting the workforce was a sign of desperation that was likely to prove fruitless.
Tracey said: "As an organisation that is based on democracy, we welcome the vote, which will only endorse what the union has been telling Patrick throughout the year. Every single protected action ballot to date has shown the membership are willing to fight for a fair EA, even with the looming threat of lock-outs."
He said the final offer tabled by the company was very complex, and required more than two days to investigate. Initial consideration by the union showed the offer was "riddled with irregularities and contained a lack of clarity on previously agreed outcomes".
The EA is reported to involve a reduced pay offer, after the company previously rejected the union proposal for a 32-hour work week roster.
The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) said it supports the MUA's rejection of the "arbitrary deadline".
ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said on April 15: "This dispute is about job security, it's about workers being able to manage their home lives, see their children. It's about transparent and accountable allocation of labour and fair compensation for an honest day's work. The MUA won't be rushed into a decision on these crucial issues."
Referring to the 1998 Patrick waterfront dispute, when the company locked out workers across all Australian terminals, provoking a massive industrial confrontation, Cotton said the ITF will again support the MUA if Patrick resorts to such action.
"The company doesn't have a track record for behaving reasonably when it doesn't get its own way, but we supported the MUA against Patrick in 1998 and we'll continue to do so as they fight for a fair resolution in this dispute," Cotton said.