Patrick strike not a repeat of 1998 dispute

Workplace law specialist says the MUA's strike against Patrick is unlikely to be a repeat of the bitter 1998 waterfront dispute

By Ruza Zivkusic | May 26, 2011

A union strike against stevedore Patrick to secure better pay and conditions is unlikely to echo the bitter waterfront dispute from 1998, a workplace law specialist says.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) this week launched industrial action against Patrick at its terminals in Brisbane, Sydney and Fremantle after it refused to accept the union’s demand of an 18 percent wage rise over three years.

Professor Andrew Stewart at the University of Adelaide says the strike is purely centred on a pay dispute rather than the issues that ignited the 1998 clash between the union and Patrick management.

"It is no longer an issue whether it’s going to be a union on the waterfront, it’s no longer an issue whether the old work practices are to survive. This is a pay dispute and I think it will get resolved sooner rather than later," Stewart says.

"Either one side or the other will get some ground and they will be back at more serious negotiations or the union will continue to take industrial action."

Patrick plans to apply to Fair Work Australia to force the MUA to end its strike and go back to the negotiating table on the basis the stoppages will hurt the economy. Stewart says the strike will have economic consequences if it stretches on.

"The more goods are held up on the waterfront the more businesses are affected. Of course there’s an impact but realistically they’re not going to notice this unless the dispute goes on for quite a bit longer," he says.

"I would be very confident before we get to that point that either there will be a breakthrough in negotiations or the dispute would have been referred to arbitration."

The MUA ignored Patrick’s request for it to enter voluntary conciliation and arbitration before Fair Work Australia.

The stevedore estimates the strikes will affect 27,950 containers and have a knock-on effect on transport operators, importers and exporters.

Patrick proposes an annual 4 percent wage increase with the promise of an extra 1 percent if internationally recognised targets were met during the life of the three-year enterprise agreement.

The 1998 dispute stemmed from Patrick’s decision to replace its unionised workforce. Patrick locked out its workforce and replaced it with non-MUA labour, leading to litigation. The matter was resolved when both parties struck a new agreement.

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