Wharfies stood down after refusing to breach quarantine

The Maritime Union of Australia says it will continue to fight for the strict enforcement of quarantine periods.

Wharfies at DP World terminal in Melbourne were stood down on March 30 after refusing to unload a container vessel on safety grounds. The container vessel docked in breach of the federal government’s 14-day coronavirus quarantine period.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) assistant national secretary Warren Smith said that to unload Xin da Lian would breach the coronavirus quarantine period and was too great a risk.

“The largest cluster of COVID-19 cases in Australia — which has already claimed several lives and caused hundreds of illnesses — was the result of inadequate measures put in place for the arrival of ships. What’s the difference with this ship?” Smith said.

“Wharfies don’t want to see a repeat of that blunder on the waterfront, but we still see ships allowed to dock inside of quarantine periods,” Smith said.

He added waterfront workers understand they have an important role to play during the COVID-19 crisis, but that should not include breaching the quarantine period.

The union is also calling for a suite of measures to protect workers and the community, and to keep supply chains operating.

Smith said any COVID-19 outbreak on the waterfront “would have a devastating impact on Australia’s supply chain given that 98% of imports arrive by sea”.

“It is vital we do everything possible to protect workers, including testing, physical distancing measures on the job, strong hygiene, cleaning, personal protection equipment and every other level of support available.

“It is irresponsible not to take the strongest measures to protect the workforce, which is providing basic needs for the community.”

Smith said the union had been working with employers on a framework for up-to-date health advice to protect workers and ensure the resilience of maritime supply chains. However, employers have refused to engage with the union, he said, “going it alone and looking to opportunistically enact essential services legislation”.

“The MUA has been demanding improvements to biosecurity measures since January, and we will continue to fight for strict enforcement of quarantine periods, more proactive biosecurity measures, testing for workers and crew of international vessels arriving in Australian ports and support for sick crew members,” said Smith.

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