7 October 2020
Morrison and the gang took time off from the pandemic last week to indulge in something much more to their liking – bashing the unions. The victim in this instance was the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), currently engaged in an industrial campaign against the notorious Patrick multi-national at the Port Botany container terminal.
Morrison sternly repeated entirely false claims that limited, legally-protected industrial action at the terminal has major shipping delays, including to medical supplies. Dark warnings were issued that the government would not tolerate this.
According to the MUA, the accusations are nothing more than an attempt to use community fear to force through attacks on workplace rights. The union said that claims that 40 container ships were sitting off the NSW coast waiting to unload were an outright lie, with vessels due to berth at Patrick’s terminal in the coming days all still travelling towards Sydney. The Patrick terminal is currently unloading several vessels, with more due to arrive this week. The only industrial action that has occurred at the Patrick container terminal in Port Botany has been a single 4 hour-stoppage about four weeks ago, along with bans on working excessive hours.
In recent days, Patrick management cancelled three consecutive night shifts – on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – preventing any containers from being unloaded or transported from the terminal. Patrick also closed the terminal for eight hours at the start of the month to undertake civil construction works.
The wharfies asked Patrick management to identify any containers carrying medical supplies, either on the dock or on berthed vessels, so they could be prioritised. Supervisors were unable to identify a single medical container in need of transport.
Patrick rejected an offer from the MUA to ensure medical supplies were not impacted by industrial action. The company also rejected an MUA offer to suspend all industrial action at Patrick terminals for a month, if the company withdrew attempts to strip away existing workplace conditions and resume meaningful negotiations.
Back in June, the MUA offered Patrick a 12 month rollover of the current workplace agreement with a 2.5 per cent wage increase, allowing the company to get through the COVID crisis. The company rejected that offer, instead proposing a new agreement that would strip away 30 pages of conditions covering things like family-friendly rosters, salaries and other workplace conditions.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin accused Patrick management of deliberately escalating the dispute in an attempt to use political and public concerns to drive through cuts to workplace conditions.
On 29 September, the MUA went to the Fair Work Commission to formally offer a peace deal to Patrick that could deliver an immediate end to all industrial action at the company’s container terminals. The union proposal would have seen the company’s existing workplace agreement extended for 12 months, maintaining the status quo with existing terms and conditions, while providing a reasonable 2.5 per cent pay rise to wharfies.
‘The union proposal would see the existing workplace agreement rolled over for another 12 months, maintaining the status quo in relation to workplace rights and conditions, while providing a reasonable and affordable 2.5 per cent pay increase to wharfies,’ said Paddy Crumlin.
‘The truth is, this dispute has never been about money, it’s been about Patrick’s desire to slash the conditions of their workforce under the cover of the COVID crisis,’ he said.
‘If the company steps back from their proposal to slash 30 pages of conditions from the current agreement – clauses that govern things like rosters, hours of work, and family-friendly provisions – we could have an agreement today that ends this dispute.’
But it was not to be. 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.
Crumlin commented: “What we have seen today is Patrick management continue to use the cover of COVID and the community anxiety that comes with it to attack the conditions of their workforce, gouge profit, and misrepresent their true intentions.”
The dispute continues. But Active Left supporters should be clear that the MUA is not bringing Australian ports to a halt and nor is it holding up medical supplies. We must be constantly on the lookout for attempts to weaken our unions under the cover of the COVID pandemic.