A 48-hour strike began at Brisbane on Tuesday while another was set to start at East Swanson terminal in Melbourne today (Thursday), with MUA deputy national secretary Will Tracey telling Lloyd’s List Australia the parties remained “very far apart”.
The company has imposed deadlines to accept its offer for the Port Botany terminal of 5pm last Friday (April 15) and then 5pm yesterday (Wednesday), also refusing to rule out locking out wharfies.
At issue is the ‘Part B’ section of the Enterprise Bargaining Agreement between Patricks and the MUA pertaining to Port Botany.
It refers to local terms and conditions, as opposed to those of ‘Part A’ that covers the workforce nationally.
Patrick executives believe the recent strikes at Fremantle and Brisbane, and that pending in Melbourne, are unreasonable given the issues at those terminals ostensibly have been resolved.
“We find ourselves in the absurd situation of the MUA waging a national strike based on our reasonable rejection of its claim for a 32-hour week paid at a 35-hour rate at one terminal, Port Botany,” Asciano human resources director Alex Badenoch said.
“Both Melbourne and Brisbane Part B negotiations were settled. The Brisbane delegates acknowledged no outstanding Part B issues at the last local meeting held in late January.
“In Brisbane this week the union made a series of new claims but only after notifying us of the strike.”
Industry groups have expressed dismay at the waterfront conflict. Australian Peak Shippers Association executive president Robert Coode said while early notice had mitigated some of the impact, it was far from ideal.
“Because Patricks have issued prior notification of the stop works and kept us in the loop, most of our members, if they were to be affected, have had time to make alternative arrangements by consulting with the shipping lines to change bookings our getting their boxes into the terminals either side of the nominated days of stoppage,” Mr Coode said.
“Mind you with the current run of blank sailings affecting schedules, moving booking to the next sailing may, in some cases prove to be a problem.
“To Patrick’s credit the early notice of the stoppages in the main means that shippers can also keep their customers updated which is crucial.”
Earlier the MUA had rejected a deadline of 5pm last Friday (April 15) to accept the timing, arguing it needed until April 22.
MUA Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey said it was absurd to expect a response in 36 hours to an 18-page document that cross referenced several detailed documents as well as various ongoing discussions at four different terminals.
Moreover the union has the support of its international affiliate the ITF, with general secretary Steve Cotton claiming, emotively, that the dispute was about job security and about “workers being able to manage their home lives, see their children”.
“It’s about transparent and accountable allocation of labour and fair compensation for an honest day’s work. The MUA won’t be rushed into a decision on these crucial issues,” Mr Cotton said.
In a recent statement, Patrick expressed frustration at the late Brisbane claims, notably the roster allocation and that the employees had taken a 15% pay cut there since the introduction of automation.
“The union made no claim for the allocator position at any time in any subsequent EA since 2001,” Ms Badenoch said.
“To satisfy this claim we would need to hire an additional two full-time employees for a job that takes about 20 minutes a day.
“Brisbane was automated in December 2005 and Botany last year. If the union is actually accusing us of cutting jobs in Brisbane due to automation then it is dredging up ancient history.”
But MUA Queensland branch secretary Bob Carnegie said workers had paid a price for automation and wanted to know they would “not be thrown on the industrial scrapheap.”
“This is not a branch that is ‘strike happy’,” Mr Carnegie said.
The dispute comes at a particularly awkward time for Asciano, which has in recent times faced stronger competition from DP World Australia and is about to experience a challenge from a third stevedore in Melbourne.
The Australian Ship Survey, prepared by equity brokers Morgans last year, reported 53% of the shipping lines rating DPW as most productive stevedore, while 60% rated DPW as most customer orientated.
Article by David SextonBack to News Page