Photo: Illustration; Image by Navingo

Peace deal between Patrick Terminals and wharfies falls through

The waterfront dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and container terminal operator Patrick Terminals rages on as efforts to reach a deal on a new workplace agreement fell flat.

The two sides agreed to a two-day conciliation hearing before the Fair Work Commission in order to find a solution for the ongoing dispute and put an end to the industrial action.

The industrial action is affecting Patrick terminals in Sydney, Melbourne Brisbane, and Fremantle, according to the terminal operator, causing significant delays.

The union said that Patrick Terminals refused their proposal to extend the current working agreement for another year in addition to a 2.5 per cent pay rise to wharfies.

“In an updated offer to the company this morning, the union offered to extend the rollover period of the existing workplace agreement to two years — provided an extended period of industrial certainty — along with industry-standard 2.5 per cent a year pay rises.

“The deal collapsed after the company insisted workers choose between substantially lower pay rises, or changes to the existing agreement that would allow the massive casualisation of the workforce, stripping away job security in the midst of the COVID crisis,” MUA pointed out.

According to the union, Patrick would only accept the rollover proposal if workers agreed to accept pay rises a full 1 per cent a year.

As explained, this is below those being provided by other stevedores, including Patrick’s co-owner Qube Logistics.

The FWC hearing has been adjourned, and will take place over two days from October 26.

The union decided to voluntarily withdraw all planned industrial action ahead of that hearing.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was dismayed by the company’s rejection of the deal, stressing that his outrage over the claims from the company’s CEO Michael Jovicic about the impact of the crisis.

“We will not accept a highly-profitable company using the cover of the COVID crisis to strip away the job security of productive, hard-working whafies, replacing quality jobs with precarious casual employment,“ he added.

He declined claims that there were 40 container ships sitting off the NSW coast waiting to unload, saying there were only one or two sitting off Port Botany, “which is a normal situation”.

“On Monday, the public was told medical supplies were being held up, yet by Wednesday the CEO of Patrick was forced to admit he wasn’t aware of a single medical container that was delayed,” he went on to say.

On the other hand, Patrick Terminals issued a statement saying the company was pleased with the union’s decision to end the planned industrial action.

The terminal operator estimates that there are more than 100 thousand containers caught up in the industrial dispute across its terminals.

Based on the company’s Wednesday figures, Melbourne will be 11 days behind schedule by Friday this week, Sydney will be more than three weeks, Brisbane 9 days behind, and Fremantle 3 days behind.

In addition, Patrick released a list of 38 ships being held up around Australia and en route from Asia.

The company said MUA rejected what it described as a ‘generous’ offer of 1.5% pay increases for each year for 4 years with no changes to their current conditions or rosters.

“In addition, Patrick offered to hire 50 new workers at Port Botany to help clear the backlog of containers and improve productivity. We also offered job guarantees with no forced redundancies for the life of the agreement,” the statement reads.

Jovicic said he was amazed the MUA had rejected the offer.

“At least now we can get on with clearing the backlog which exceeds more than 100,000 containers around Australia. My operations team estimate it will take between two and three months to return to normal,” he added.

“Also, this morning we have been contacted by a freight forwarder seeking assistance to locate and move a container containing essential diabetes medication. They advise there is now a critical shortage of these drugs. The ship was delayed by three weeks due to the industrial action,” he pointed out.

“We have located the container and it will be discharged from Port Botany tonight.”

ITF supports wharfies

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has intervened in the dispute supporting the port workers’ human rights to collectively bargain for a fair industrial agreement.

ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton voiced concern over the rhetoric emanating from the Australian government, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week threatened to send troops to break the port workers’ industrial action.

“We have a situation where these dock workers have followed the letter of the law. They have worked round-the-clock to keep supply chains flowing during this pandemic and keep shelves stocked. Now it comes time for these workers to stand up to stop their employer’s deep cuts to their workplace conditions, and they have their own government piling on against them, frankly, in an hysterical and anti-democratic manner.”

He added MUA offered to roll over the existing agreement three times by now to avoid unnecessary conflict at a difficult time for Australia and the world in exchange for keeping the existing workplace conditions.

“It is clear to international observers that while the MUA is extending olive branches, Patrick Stevedores and their allies in the Morrison government are intent on escalating this conflict as part of Patrick’s plot to slash the wages and conditions of these essential workers.”

Global shipping lines put on notice

ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith said the ITF would be having conversations with at least two major international shipping companies whom the federation believes have involved themselves in the dispute on the side of the port company.

“We understand that ships have been needlessly diverted from Botany to other Australian ports, despite there not being any industrial action taking place intended to slow down or stop cargo,” said Smith.

“There is a risk that these companies could create the false impression that the dockers of Port Botany are somehow responsible for the companies’ decisions to divert their ships. The dockers are not responsible.”

“We encourage all companies in the maritime sector to uphold workers’ fundamental rights to collectively bargain and defend their hard-fought workplace conditions: on and off the water. Conduct by shipping companies which suggests that they may be supporting one side or the other undermines the reputation of these companies in a significant and irreparable way,” said Smith.

ITF Dockers’ Section Coordinator, Enrico Tortolano, said that dockers’ unions across the world were now getting prepared to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MUA.

“It is very telling that Patrick Stevedores have so far been unwilling to roll over the existing contract and instead are demanding big cuts to the workers’ conditions,” he added.