The Maritime Union of Australia (Victorian Branch) organised a protest outside tug boat company Svitzer in Port of Melbourne on March 23, calling for CEO Kasper Friis Nilaus to meet workers seeking a national employment agreement with guarantees of fair pay, job security and safety at work.
David Ball, MUA’s Victorian Branch Deputy Secretary, criticised Nilaus for refusing to front the people whose jobs are under threat. He said Svitzer is unnecessarily dragging out an industrial dispute that could be settled.
“In a cynical attempt to leverage community anxiety around maritime logistics during COVID-19, this company has systematically manipulated the industrial relations framework to catalyse a dispute which only they seem to want,” Ball said.
Ball added that Svitzer “wants to rip up its employment agreements with its entire crew” and that this would have catastrophic consequences for 24-hour rosters, weekend work and port productivity.
Svitzer has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the enterprise agreement. If successful, it will push all of Svitzer’s crew on to the basic industrial award. This would put all tugboat workers on a standard roster, with no provision for overtime or around-the-clock towage activity.
“The greatest risk to Australian ports and supply chains today is employer militancy of the kind being spearheaded by Svitzer,” Ball said. “Local management of this multinational tug company must not be allowed to interfere in the smooth running of Australia’s ports just to improve the bottom line of Svitzer or its parent company, AP Møller–Mærsk.”
“Workers must have the opportunity to bargain collectively with their employer ... but the local managers of Svitzer are determined to take us down the path of termination.”
Representatives from the Construction, Forestry, Mining, Maritime and Energy Union (CFMMEU), Electrical Trades Union, Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Plumping and Pipe Trade Union (Victoria) pledged their support.
Chris Cain, National Secretary of the CFMMEU, outlined how important it is for the MUA to win this campaign. He said if Switzer wins, more companies would feel confident to attack workers’ wages and conditions.
Cain also put Josh Burns, the Labor MP representing the port area, on notice. He said the union movement would campaign for Labor to win the federal election, but if the party does not address the attacks on workers and their unions during its term of office, workers would kick them out at the next election.