Photo: Illustration; Image by Navingo

Australian terminals facing delays as unionized workers declare protected industrial action

Unionized workers have voted to undertake protected industrial action at Patrick, Hutchinson, and DP World terminals at Brisbane, Freemantle, Sydney, and Melbourne in Australia after negotiations on a new enterprise agreement broke down with the employers.

The decision followed the approval from the Fair Work Commission to unions to hold the ballot.

Patrick Terminal will see work stoppages of up to 24 hours on multiple days in the first half of September across Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, and Fremantle Patrick Terminals. 

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) told Offshore Energy-Green Marine that negotiations with Hutchison Ports Australia and Patrick are ongoing, with protected industrial action currently occurring at both companies.

Currently, there is no industrial action at DP World Australia, although the union has notified the company of their intention to take future action.

DP World Australia is yet to provide a comment to our publication on the matter.

So far, the industrial action at Patrick’s Port Botany terminal involved a four-hour stoppage last Friday, along with bans on upgrading to higher positions. From today there are also bans on overtime.

“This industrial action is a response to Patrick’s proposed agreement, which seeks to impose unilateral management prerogative over all aspects of the workplace, removing any input by workers into the rosters, hours of work, breaks, salaries, and skill development. The scale of these cuts to basic employment conditions would wind back the clock 20 years,” MUA said.

Container shipping major OOCL said that these work stoppages and those expected at other terminal operator locations will both disrupt schedule integrity in September and have a cascading impact into October due to the delays as vessels return back to Asia.

“The delays experienced around the Australian coast over the past month have impacted all shipping lines vessel schedules upon their return back to Asia. Subsequently, this has & will cause further delays and congestion on most services departing Asia for Australia in September,” OOCL said in a customer advisory.

OOCL will continue to use change of port rotation options around the Australian coast on our established services in order to minimize delays.”

Protected industrial action has been declared for Brisbane for 24 hours at the DP World terminal on Sunday 13 September, Shipping Australia Limited said.

The shipowner association added that industrial action on the waterfront was causing increasing disruption to the movement of ships and the movement of vital goods.

According to the association, at least two ship voyages have been delayed, one for five and another one for seven days, resulting in massive costs.

As disclosed, the approximate cost of a day’s delay for a container ship can be about $25,000 a day. A five-day delay could therefore cost about $125,000.

“We are even now hearing of the potential for ships to be delayed by up to 18 days! If that happens, the resulting direct costs could blow out to half a million dollars per ship!” Shipping Australia Limited added.

“It was entirely predictable that nationally co-ordinated protected industrial action would disrupt the supply chain and would lead to increased costs and delays to vitally needed cargoes such as foodstuffs, medicines, medical equipment, medical supplies and everyday goods in the shops.”

The association said if the situation persists shipping would come to a standstill, calling on the unions, industrial relations, and governments to resolve the dispute and end the industrial action.

MUA explained that Patrick, the most profitable stevedore in Australia, has seen labour costs per lift fall 18.1 per cent in the past decade.

“They have the lowest unit labour cost of all the stevedores, an outcome that has only been achieved because of the efforts of their workforce.
Wharfies at Hutchison Ports Australia are currently undertaking protected industrial action in the form of a go slow. The company is docking their wages 20 per cent, which is their calculation of the impact of the action on productivity,”
the union said in a statement.

“None of these actions are capable of causing the delays claimed without evidence by Shipping Australia.

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin described Shipping Australia’s claims “absurd, evidence-free” and fear-mongering to “exploit COVID anxiety already in the community for their self-interest.”

“There is no evidence that the limited, completely legal forms of industrial actions are causing the ridiculous delays claimed.
Suggestions that major shipping lines are making significant commercial decisions to switch stevedores because of these actions is equally ludicrous,”
he added.

“Our actions have been implemented in a manner that minimises potential disruption to the general public, including with clear exemptions for any medical or COVID-19 related cargo, and all container terminals are continuing to operate.”

Crumlin pointed out that the union was continuing to negotiate in good faith with stevedoring companies in an effort to resolve these issues and deliver agreements that provide fair outcomes for workers.

The industrial action is being announced just days after the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said that Svitzer Australia tug crews employed at dozens of ports around Australia were about to vote on potential industrial action as a response to stalled talks on a new workplace agreement with their employer.

As Offshore Energy-Green Marine understands from sources close to the matter, there hasn’t been a vote yet by Svitzer workers.

Svitzer is in ongoing dialogue with the unions and there has been no impact to operations or the company’s towage services.

A company spokesperson said that any industrial action is contingent on a valid vote by the MUA members to approve the action (which will take place the second week of October 2020), and 3 days’ notification to Svitzer of the specific industrial action to be taken.