By Bruce Marlowe
SYDNEY — The crippling role of the federal Workplace Relations Act has again been underlined after industrial relations minister Peter Reith admitted he advised Patrick boss Chris Corrigan not to pay Port Botany wharfies because they had imposed overtime bans in support of an improved enterprise agreement.
Section 187AA of the act states: "An employer must not make a payment to an employee in relation to a period during which the employee engaged, or engages, in industrial action."
The ACTU and the Maritime Union of Australia will challenge the action in the Federal Court, but legal opinion provided to Green Left Weekly was that overtime is such an entrenched part of normal working practice on the waterfront that a ban would be seen as a disruption of work.
Sub-section 4(1) of the act defines industrial action to include "performance of work in a manner different from that in which it is customarily performed, or the adoption of a practice in relation to work, the result of which is a restriction or limitation on, or a delay in, the performance of the work".
The MUA's response to Reith's intervention has been to extend a planned 24-hour stoppage at Port Botany, the main Sydney container terminal, to eight days. This has led Corrigan to threaten an appeal to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission, seeking to remove the MUA's right to take "protected action" in support of its enterprise bargaining with Patrick.
A ruling in Corrigan's favour would confront the MUA with the decision that has been central throughout the whole dispute: the need to breach the Workplace Relations Act.