Webb Dock workers reject company's non-union agreement

MUA members and supporters protest during a previous dispute at the Victoria International Container Terminal in 2017. Photo: Matt Hrkac

Despite the economic uncertainties caused by COVID-19, Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) workers at Webb Dock in Melbourne have overwhelmingly rejected a non-union enterprise agreement (EA) offered by management.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) organiser Aaron Moon told Green Left that the workers' decision “is a small victory at the start of the much larger campaign to win a union EA”.

Moon said that of the 137 VICT workers, 132 voted and 67% of those voted against management’s offer.

“The proposed agreement would have meant that the workers would have fallen further behind the other two terminals in the Melbourne docks,” he said, referring to Patricks and DP World, which have union EAs.

Moon said VICT management ran a hostile campaign, using the uncertain economic times to further frighten workers, especially casuals. This could explain why 43 workers voted for the management EA, he said.

VICT has provoked several workplace disputes over the past three years, the result of its controversial EA, which will expire in October.

VICT had set up a non-union EA before taking over the site at Webb Dock. In October 2016, it negotiated with five supervisors for its non-union EA and then forced the substandard agreement onto its new workforce when it began operations in March 2017.

The Carlton and United Breweries dispute, which was successfully settled the same year, was caused by a similar management manoeuvre, which, if successful would have meant that sacked workers were reemployed on lower wages and worse conditions.

Unionists were angry that the VICT management EA offer was led by former MUA deputy national secretary Mick O’Leary, now the company’s human resources and industrial relations director.

They also felt betrayed by Lindsay Tanner, a former Labor MP, then a VICT director when the company’s workforce was locked out after MUA members protested bullying, harassment and sackings in November–December 2017. A 3000-strong union rally was organised in solidarity with the MUA in December that year while VICT took legal action against the unions.

Moon said about 97% of the current VICT workforce are eligible to become MUA members, which is why the MUA, the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Maritime Officers Union have requested that the company negotiate.

The MUA has served VICT with a workforce-endorsed log of claims. It is demanding: that wage rises be brought into line with other Victorian stevedoring companies; more permanent jobs; and a fairer roster to provide greater job security, certainty of hours and work-life balance.