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DP World move could spark strikes and lockouts.

Plan to dock pay deepens port dispute.

Stevedore DP World will dock a full shift’s pay from any wharfies who slow down cargo with work bans, in an escalation of its dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia that is hindering four of the country’s busiest ports.

The move is seen by industry groups as a prelude to full-on strikes and lockouts, which could bring to a head the months-long dispute plaguing about 40 per cent of Australian imports and exports.

Since October 1, the militant Maritime Union has instructed its members to engage in legal industrial action from refusing overtime to not unloading trucks, as it negotiates a new pay deal with the foreign-owned stevedore.

DP World operates terminals at Brisbane, Port Botany in Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle.

The company estimates the union’s industrial action has so far cost Australian businesses $10 million from perished goods, late penalties and storage fees. But it claims the overall cost of the industrial action for the economy is much higher, at $84.2 million a week. Shipping delays have been exacerbated by increasing tensions in the Red Sea.

Paul Zalai, chief executive of the industry group Freight and Trade Alliance, said it appeared DP World had decided the union’s campaign of industrial action was intolerable.

Reading between the lines, it could get to the point where DP World invokes the industrial action available to them, which would be to lock out the staff. I’m hopeful it doesn’t come to that.

There has not been a major lockout in Australia’s shipping industry since the 1990s waterfront dispute, in which the Howard government collaborated with Patrick Corporation in an attempt to break the MUA and reform Australia’s ports.

Any such move could cripple the nation’s imports and exports, and would be likely to trigger intervention from the Fair Work Commission, which is the national industrial umpire. It could decide new pay rules for DP World itself or order an end to the industrial action.

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