Attacks on MUA escalate

March 11, 1998

By James Vassilopoulos

Waterfront bosses and the Coalition government are investigating the possibility of setting up a non-union stevedoring company in Fremantle. Other measures aimed at the Maritime Union of Australia include the planned privatisation of port authorities in Western Australia and South Australia, the WA government's decision that only stevedoring companies offering individual contracts to workers can bid for the contract at Port Hedland and more non-union wharfies being trained overseas.

More than 60 non-union wharfies will be able to operate container cranes, straddles and refrigeration devices when their training at the National Farmers Federation's Webb Dock operation finishes in mid-April. The NFF has said it is now looking for a second "Webb Dock", perhaps to place the scabs.

At the Port of Fremantle, someone calling himself Geoff Delaney is recruiting "casual, contract" wharfies for Western Stevedores Pty Ltd. One Fremantle wharfie told Green Left that Delaney, when asked whether union members would be employed, said, "At the moment we are taking unionised [workers], but who knows in the future?".

Delaney was "cagey", said the wharfie, when asked for information about the job and when it would start. Delaney said applicants need experience handling livestock and must have a have a crane licence. Western Stevedores load only livestock at Fremantle, indicating that they are planning an expansion to container handling.

Delaney is believed to have as many as 100 names. This list could be the basis of a non-union stevedoring operation in Fremantle or Port Hedland.

Western Stevedores is a new company, registered in October 1995. It employed many of the scabs who lost their jobs when Len Buckeridge's non-union stevedoring operation with the WA Coalition government was defeated in 1995 after a two-week strike by the MUA. The ALP state opposition claims that Western Stevedores has links to Buckeridge.

In a provocative move, the WA government advertised on February 28 through the state-owned Port Hedland Port Authority for a tender for stevedoring and cargo handling. Applicants must employ workers on an individual contract basis.

Transport minister Eric Charlton said, "The government is keen to encourage working arrangements which inspire loyalty to an employer rather than the MUA", reported the shipping industry newspaper, the Daily Commercial News, on March 4.

Charlton gave Buckeridge's company the non-union stevedoring contract in 1995.

The WA government plans to build a private port at Kwinana, south of Fremantle. Greg Trenberth, an adviser to Charlton, told the February 16 Daily Commercial News, "The government is keen for a new port to be run by a private company that operates on direct employer-employee basis rather than the long entrenched situation whereby the Maritime Union of Australia allocates waterfront labour".

In South Australia, Liberal Premier John Olsen wants to privatise the SA Ports Corporation. The SA Farmers Federation on March 3 stated its "unwavering support" for "increased competition" on the waterfront.

Privatisation of port authorities was how the British dockers' union was smashed, their conditions cut and hours extended.

The MUA is continuing enterprise bargaining negotiations with Patrick Stevedores, but the talks have stalled. The MUA notified Patrick that it will strike at Port Botany in Sydney on March 11 and 12 and impose overtime bans.

MUA national secretary John Coombs believes that British Columbia and Johor (in Malaysia) have been approached to train more potentially non-union Australian workers for the waterfront.

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