The Fremantle Port Authority has been accused of significantly escalating an industrial dispute at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal by standing down workers for undertaking legally-protected industrial action, which threatens to cause significant freight delays.
The Maritime Union of Australia said Fremantle Ports’ heavy-handed response to limited forms of lawful industrial action had resulted in the Kwinana terminal effectively shutting down for five hours a day, which is already causing delays that have resulted in an iron ore bulk carrier being diverted to another port.
The dispute follows a forensic audit which found more than 100 Fremantle Ports workers had been underpaid more than $3.5 million across the last six years, with some short-changed more than $10,000 a year.
That audit was undertaken in the context of revelations of alleged corruption by a former Fremantle Ports manager who is accused of funnelling more than $5 million from the WA Government-owned port operator to offshore bank accounts.
“Fremantle Ports have taken limited work stoppages and bans and escalated them into a significant industrial dispute which is already impacting customers of the Kwinana Bulk Terminal,” MUA WA Assistant Branch Secretary Jeff Cassar.
“What had been staggered one-hour stoppages, spread across workgroups to reduce the potential impacts on terminal operations, have become complete shut downs because of Fremantle Ports’ decision to stand down all workers whenever any workgroup is undertaking lawful industrial action.
“It appears that Fremantle Ports are willingly sabotaging their own operations, and causing significant delays to their customers, in an effort to exaggerate the effects of this minor industrial action.
“Our members have also been imposing a ban on working vessels that have been at sea less than 14 days in a bid to reduce the risk of COVID transmission into the WA community from international seafarers.
“Workers are simply exercising their legal industrial rights in an effort to negotiate a new enterprise agreement that reflects industry standards, yet Fremantle Ports are responding in an aggressive and heavy-handed manner that threatens a massive escalation, causing significant port delays.”
Mr Cassar said the WA community should be deeply concerned about the operations of Fremantle Ports following allegations of significant corruption and wage underpayment.
“When the union first raised potential underpayments, Fremantle Ports claimed there wasn’t an issue because wages were audited annually, but those same audits failed to identify an alleged corrupt scheme that was syphoning millions of dollars into offshore bank accounts,” he said.
“In the context of those allegations, we commissioned FTI Consulting to undertake a forensic audit of wages, which uncovered wholesale underpayments across Fremantle Ports’ operations.
“That examination revealed that approximately 100 employees of Fremantle Ports had been underpaid an average of $6,000 a year for at least six years, with some short-changed by more than $10,000 a year.
“It is extraordinary that at the same time the WA Government is conducting an inquiry into wage theft, one of their publicly-owned trading enterprises has been involved in a major underpayment scandal.
“If the McGowan Government seriously wants to address wage theft, they should start in their own backyard by ensuring Fremantle Ports repays the millions of dollars it owes employees.”
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