Industrial action at Patrick terminals

The Maritime Union of Australia is holding 24-hour strikes at four major Patrick container terminals over pay negotiations

By Ruza Zivkusic | April 29, 2011

Three major Patrick container terminals will come to a standstill tomorrow due to a dispute over pay and working conditions.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is implementing 24-hour strikes at the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane ports this Saturday, followed by Freemantle on Monday.

It has failed to reach an agreement with the stevedoring company POAGS for a new EBA system for its members after holding numerous of meetings with them, MUA’s National Secretary Assistant Warren Smith says.

"The 12 meetings have found some common ground but the company and the national negotiating committee which contains delegates from various POAGS sites have found significant and fundamental points of difference which will need to be resolved in order to reach an agreement," Smith says.

"The company are attempting to use wages as a means of portraying the union in an unreasonable light.

"We have stated that wages are not the main issue. We want to see parity amongst workers as some ports are getting less than others for the same work.

"Where this will end we do not know at this stage but surely any reasonable person must agree that equal pay for equal work should apply. The realignment of parity between workers can present a skewed look around wages."

Patrick Divisional Director Paul Garaty has expressed disappointment over MUA’s decision to hold the strikes "despite negotiations continuing before the Fair Work Australia Commission".

"We are committed to working through the process established by Fair Work Australia," Garaty says.

"The MUA had received permission for protected strike action but had given an undertaking that it would not commence any action while the parties were still negotiating.

"This strike is designed to hurt us but the real impact will be felt by the hundreds of exporters and importers relying on prompt shipping service, from small businesses waiting for deliveries to cotton farmers trying to get their recent harvest to international markets."

Patrick has offered pay increases between 4 and 4.5 percent in exchange for specified productivity improvements, he adds.

"Unfortunately the union has refused to modify its claim, which would add more than 30 percent – almost $120 million to our cost base during the next three years.

"We have argued before Fair Work Australia that the MUA’s demands are excessive, amounting to a 32 percent increase in total salary costs.

"We would have to recover those costs from our customers who would pass them on in higher prices to consumers.

"Patrick is committed to achieving a fair outcome but we cannot negotiate while the claims are excessive and unsustainable."

Victorian Transport Association (VTA) Deputy Chief Executive Officer Neil Chambers says transport operators, importers and exporters will be affected by the strikes.

"It’s a very unfortunate outcome as there won’t be any work on the docks, so it’s unfortunate that they won’t be able to reach a settled outcome," Chambers says.

"Any delay to the international container trade will have significant financial costs."

Sydney Ports Corporation Chief Executive Officer Grant Gilfillan says the strike action will have a broad impact on the reputation of Sydney Ports as a world-class trading destination.

"We are working with Patrick and the truck carriers to ensure that there is minimal disruption during this period and we will provide support to get the terminal back to normal business as quickly as possible," Gilfillan says.

Meanwhile, Patrick terminals across Australia are currently experiencing disruptions to their operating systems due to "an unscheduled outage".

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