Strike action heralds ‘Year of the Wharfie’

MUA picket. Henderson, January 29. Photo: Michael Parker

Wharfies employed by stevedoring company Patrick at four different ports across Australia took strike action in the last week of January in pursuit of a new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).

It was the most significant industrial action on the wharves since the 1998 Patrick lockout.

In recent ballots organised by Fairwork Australia, workers at the strike-affected ports voted (by margins of 94% to 100%) to take a range of different forms of industrial action to press their claim.

The workers, employed at Patrick’s bulk and general division (which deals with non-containerised cargo), took between three and six days' strike action at the ports of Fremantle, Albany, Melbourne and Geelong.

Among the key demands of the Patrick workers are pay rises of 10% a year, more permanent jobs, a 25% casual leave loading, and full leave and long-service entitlements for permanent part-time workers.

The workers have rejected the company's initial offer of a 2.6% yearly pay rise.

The industrial action in Western Australia culminated on January 29 with a rally of more than 300 Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members at the front gates of the Australian Maritime Complex at Henderson, south of Fremantle.

The rally included seafarers, port authority workers and wharfies from other sites who came out to support the Patrick workers.

The EBA campaign is especially important because enterprise agreements at most stevedoring companies also expire this year.

The Patrick container terminal agreement has already expired and the MUA has lodged a ballot application so that workers there can also take industrial action in support of their claims.

The agreement at DP World, the other half of the container stevedoring duopoly in Australia, expires mid-year.

The Western Australian branch of the MUA has led the charge in the campaign. The front page of its newspaper Rank & File Voice declared that 2011 would be the “Year of the Wharfie”.

In 2010, the MUA won big improvements for seafarers employed in the offshore oil and gas industry. WA MUA branch secretary Chris Cain has vowed that this year his members on the waterfront will make their biggest gains since 1998.