MUA wins another round in Hutchison Ports fight

Sacked workers from Hutchison Ports and their supporters rally outside Vodaphone in Sydney.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Hutchison Ports management agreed on August 28 to sign a memorandum of understanding (MOU), which will result in all sacked workers at Port Botany and Port of Brisbane being reinstated for a further six weeks from August 31.

Workers at both sites have maintained a community assembly at the gates of both terminals for three weeks now, in protest at the sudden sacking of 97 Hutchison waterside workers by text and email at midnight on August 6. The assemblies have become gatherings of union solidarity for maritime workers, members of other unions and the community generally over this period.

MUA Sydney branch assistant secretary Joe Deakin told Green Left Weekly: "The whole Hutchison workforce will be on the payroll at least until October 15, while negotiations continue.”

Fair Work Australia set down hearings on the Hutchison dispute for three days from August 31.

"On the overall picture, right now I'd say we've won five rounds of a 12-round bout," Deakin said. "But Hutchison, the biggest stevedoring company in the world, is not going to give up easily. We've still got seven rounds to go.

"The agenda of Hutchison from day one was to de-unionise its workforce. If they win here, the poison will spread to the other stevedoring companies, DP World and Patricks.

"The only reason we've won a positive outcome so far is workers' solidarity and the community assembly. The legal process has not been the crucial factor.

"We will be forever grateful to the other unions and the community for supporting us here at Hutchisons. If you don't fight, you lose".

The MOU reportedly includes reinstatement of all workers without distinction between those previously sacked and those retained by Hutchison; proper disclosure of the financial basis of any need for lay-offs; any redundancies to be voluntary at first, then according to open selection criteria; an expanded redundancy package; and the right of return of retrenched workers to their former jobs if work picks up in future.

Hutchison's Hong Kong-based management is reported to be trying to scale back or even close its Australian operations, after its plans were thrown into disarray by losing its expected contract for the Port of Melbourne to another company. The first stage in this plan was to sub-contract existing ships to DP World and Patricks.

An important further step in the campaign for jobs at Hutchison has been the pickets of Vodafone offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane on August 26. Vodafone is 50% owned by Hutchison.

Members of several unions, particularly the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union, handed out cards to the public outside these offices, headed, "Who's got us covered, Vodafone? Connection Lost, 97 Jobs Terminated". The flyers advertised an onlline petition.

The community assemblies at Port Botany and Port of Brisbane are continuing, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The public is urged to attend to show direct support for the Hutchison workers.

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