Waterfront war on the cards

MUA members at the Port of Esperance in WA return to work but more industrial strife is looming for Australia’s waterfront

Waterfront war on the cards
Waterfront war on the cards again

By Anna Game-Lopata | April 8, 2011

Thirteen years after devastating industrial action on the waterfront between Patrick Stevedores and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), strife is looming again
following the break down of
long-running negotiations over pay and conditions.

The two sides each argue the other has failed to negotiate "in good faith" as
still can't be reached
on the issues, which the union claims include safety, despite talks being held since August last year.

A Patrick Stevedores spokesperson says each of the substantial offers made by the company has been refused.

The union originally demanded annual pay rises of 10 per cent, but has since backed-off and is seeking three six per cent pay rises, as well as a $5,000 signing bonus for every worker.

In addition the union wants an increase in superannuation from nine to 13 per cent, a $1,500 'health and welfare' allowance and an extra week of annual leave to six weeks per year.

Patrick has offered annual four per cent pay rises and says it is open to discussing a bonus but not under the threat of significant work bans and stoppages.

The spokesperson says the union's demand for a $5,000 signing bonus would add more than 30 per cent to total salary costs, or more than $46,000 an employee.

She also adds that the union has not responded with any assurances of productivity increases as part of the agreement.

"There’s nothing in the MUA’s demands which will increase productivity or efficiency or enhancing our national position," the spokesperson says.

''We've made an offer of a basic salary increase above CPI and are willing to go higher if we can get guarantees on productivity and efficiency, which is at the heart of the Fair Work Act.''

"The average annual income for a stevedore is fair at around $100,000 per year. What they are seeking is unreasonable and unsustainable and will add more than 30 per cent to the company’s cost base.

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

In a bid to prevent the stoppages, which will affect Patrick ports across Australia with the possible exception of Brisbane, Patrick will take legal action today with the
Fair Work Commission.

Strikes involving about 1000 workers were planned to go ahead from today, starting in Melbourne and moving to other states over next week.

In media reports, the union
argues its action is not intended to "hurt" the stevedore, but to grab attention with overtime bans and brief stoppages.

However Patrick believes the strikes could have a major effect on exports and imports. It would be the most significant industrial dispute on the wharves since 1998.

The decision from the Fair Work Commission is expected to be handed own about 3.00 pm today.


Meanwhile MUA members at Port Esperance in Western Australia returned to work after a second 24 hour stoppage yesterday.

The union says the port was brought to a standstill because of management failure to recognise workers' skills and entitlements.

According to MUA delegate Jason Shaw, the two 24 hour stoppages were over management refusal to negotiate equitable wages and conditions during six long months of the enterprise agreement talks.

"A key sticking point was the fact that workers had no career path," Shaw says.

"Despite four levels and increments people were left on the entry level for years earning the same amount as unskilled workers just starting out at the port.

"It's more about recognition of our skills,"
Shaw says.

"We do everything -
stevedoring , lineswork, tradeswork.
But we are left on the same wage for years.
We've dropped claims, they haven't budged."

About 80 workers went out the gates on
the first
24-hour strike, affecting shipments of iron ore, wheat and fertilizer.

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