BY SHANE BENTLEY
SYDNEY — P&O Ports will cease stevedoring operations at White Bay on November 28. The company will then move its operations to Darling Harbour and share the facility with Patrick Stevedores. Lease costs paid to the NSW government will be halved for both companies as a result.
P&O's exit from White Bay followed the October 5 decision by NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr to refuse to extend existing Sydney Harbour stevedoring leases, thereby ending the harbour's life as a working port.
Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members at White Bay met on October 8 with P&O managing director Tim Blood. Various national and local MUA officials were also present. Blood told the meeting that, while no redundancies were to take place, the jobs of 13 permanent White Bay employees were set to disappear.
A meeting of White Bay employees on November 14 overwhelmingly accepted a proposal from local MUA officials Robert Coombs and Warren Smith to negotiate joint arrangements with P&O and Patrick. This would see the original 13 job losses limited to four.
"Immediate industrial action" was threatened if P&O management did not accept. The proposal was accepted by P&O later that afternoon. The speed with which P&O agreed to the MUA proposal has led some to believe that discussions with management had previously occurred, making the rank-and-file meeting a mere formality.
A number of questions remain unanswered. Will the terms of the joint P&O-Patrick arrangements at Darling Harbour be settled before White Bay operations cease on November 28? Why has machinery going from White Bay to Darling Harbour been sold to Australian Automotive Terminals (AAT) — a joint P&O and Patrick company that the November 14 proposal aimed to keep out of Darling Harbour?
What will happen to P&O and Patrick operations at Darling Harbour once the lease expires in February 2006? Will the new or expanded facilities at Port Botany (Sydney), Newcastle or Port Kembla (Wollongong) that the NSW government plans to divert existing Sydney Harbour shipping to be complete by February 2006?
What is to become of White Bay — will it be turned into parkland, a forest of over-priced apartments or opened up for a third stevedoring company?
From Green Left Weekly, November 26, 2003.
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