Freemantle port workers to take 24-hour strike action

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has revealed that waterside workers at Freemantle Ports will launch a 24-hour strike over what they regard as heavy-handed actions of the port authority.

The MUA said that the 24 stoppage due to start on 25 June from 10 a.m. (local time) comes as a response to the financial hardship of workers standing down at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal for five hours a day.

Consequently, the strike will prevent vessels from being tied up or let go, including at the Patrick and DP World container terminals. The stoppage is the first time lawful industrial action has extended beyond the Kwinana Bulk Terminal to the Inner Harbour.

“Workers at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal have been suffering serious financial hardship due to Fremantle Ports’ decision to stand down all workers any time a workgroup undertakes lawful industrial action, essentially shutting the terminal for five hours a day,” Maritime Union of Australia WA Assistant Branch Secretary Jeff Cassar noted.

As disclosed, striking port workers will be joined by community supporters for a protest outside the office of Fremantle Ports to demand the Western Australian Government trading enterprise to resolve the growing industrial dispute.

Workers were simply exercising their legal rights as part of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement that reflects industry standards, yet Fremantle Ports response has been aggressive, heavy-handed, and threatens to cause significant port delays,” Cassar pointed out.

He added that “the stoppage and related protests were aimed to bring the dispute to a head.”

As informed, the union has commissioned an independent forensic audit to investigate the massive underpayment of wages that has been occurring since 2014. The results uncovered alleged under payments to about 100 port workers who have been underpaid millions of dollars, with some short-changed more than $10,000 a year.

“The McGowan Government needs to take responsibility for what has been going on at this publicly-owned trading enterprise, get to the bottom of the major underpayment scandal, and ensure Fremantle Ports stops attacking their workers and customers,” Cassar concluded.

Fremantle Ports users, including BGC and Cockburn Cement, have been caught in the middle of the dispute, being forced to pay thousands of dollars in demurrage costs due to shipping delays caused by the stand-down policy.

The move comes two months after seafarer unions decided to shut down negotiations over the future of minimum wages with national shipowners represented by the International Chamber of Shipping.

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These actions are undertaken by seafarers amid the gravest crises in modern history caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has left thousands unable to sign off from their ships for months upon expiration of their contracts.

In the meantime, MUA has called for vaccination of all seafarers at Australian ports to reduce the risk of COVID transmission between seafarers and prevent further crew change crisis.

With the 24-hour strike, the port workers will mark the International Day of Seafarers, while the ships around the world will sound their horns to pay respect to 1.5 million seafarers around the world.