Support grows for community assembly at Webb Dock

Support for the MUA is growing. Photo: Matt Krkac

Despite court action by the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT) against unions and key union leaders, support for the community assembly at Webb Dock is growing.

At the annual Geelong Trades Hall Council (GTHC) President’s Night on December 12, a solidarity motion with the community assembly was carried unanimously. The 100-strong gathering also agreed to mobilise the community on New Year’s Day 2018.

The Victorian Supreme Court has determined that the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) secretary Luke Hilakari must stay 100 metres from the site, and allow free passage to the port. The unions and union leader await a future trial.

David Ball, a GTHC executive member and local MUA leader moved the motion condemning VICT and its attack on workers and their working conditions. The dispute began after VICT refused to give casual shifts to a union representative on the basis of a disputed security process. This was after the company attempted to negotiate a sub-standard enterprise agreement that the MUA would not agree to. 

The GTHC motion committed it to “fully support” the MUA and “do everything within its power, to support the campaign and resolve the matter in favour of the workers”.

The motion also distanced the MUA from Mick O’Leary, described in the media as a “local identity”. O’Leary is currently the Human Resources and Industrial Relations Director at VICT. This has been galling to MUA members as he was once the deputy national secretary of the MUA until 2002, and a key leader of the 1998 strike. His early career was in Geelong and many of his local relatives are still proud union members.

Consequently, the motion requested that “in the future, the campaign does not associate Mick O’Leary with Geelong. The Geelong community has a proud history and will continue to fight for workers’ rights, now and always.”

In moving the motion, Ball described the dispute as “complicated”. “There’s one major issue with a delegate, who was recruiting MUA members inside the workplace. He was sacked for a technical reason, in that he did not have a maritime security pass. In the last week or so, he has managed to get a maritime security card, but the company hasn’t put him back on”, Ball said.

“The bigger issue for the MUA is that there was a workplace agreement that was signed off by five supervisors, and which doesn’t involve the MUA. It’s a terrible workplace agreement.”

GTHC secretary Colin Vernon seconded the motion, saying:  “We’ve seen [workers come under attack] far too much. It’s important to tell the company that it’s not on and tell the government it’s not on ... It’s coming up to Christmas time and things are going to be tough. We are going to need men, we are going to need women, and we are going to need children. I urge everybody to get on board.”

On December 8, following his attendance at a community rally at Webb Dock, Hilakari was served with a court order at his family home. The CFMEU was also served with a court summons. The VTHC has slammed the court orders as a “severe and unprecedented escalation by VICT”.

The VTHC has strongly criticised VICT’s actions as an attempt “to intimidate Trades Hall and all working people through this extreme action”. “Not only is such a blatant act of attempted intimidation entirely unnecessary, but it will not work. Unionists and community members have rallied around Mr Hilakari, appalled by VICT’s heavy-handed, anti-worker tactics”, the statement reads.

“This is yet another example of workplace laws that are rigged against working people. Big corporations wield far too much power and every day it gets harder and harder for normal working people to stand up for a fair go. The rules are broken and need to be changed. Together, working people will change them.”

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