DP World’s MUA stoush risks industrial showdown

Stevedore says it is still at negotiation table but union sees shutdown threat as provocation

DP World’s MUA stoush risks industrial showdown
The MUA and DP World are at odds in WA


DP World insists it remains in the negotiation process with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) as the risk of a perfect storm of past and present waterfront industrial and commercial issues looms.

The stevedore has been locked in enterprise-bargaining talks over seven months involving all its terminals but the latest rise in tension is focused on Fremantle, where its terminal will be closed tomorrow if protected industrial action in the form of a four-hour stoppage takes place there.

Ironically, DP World will rely on rival Patrick, the MUA’s foe in the late 1990s, to handle its cargo. And the stevedore has noted the advent of more players in its market place in recent years and the resulting need for greater operational flexibility.

"The stevedoring industry is in the midst of substantial change," a DP World statement reads.

"The introduction of competition in Brisbane, Sydney and soon, in Melbourne, has seen the biggest injection of supply and capacity into the industry seen in decades.

"This required extra workforce flexibility to remain competitive and to the greatest extent possible protect employment for our stevedores in Fremantle."

The context in which negotiations were taking place was the need to better service our customers following the loss of the K-Line contract in Fremantle, it adds.

But the stoppage "as well as subsequent notice of a series of rolling bans on labour, with the potential for ongoing disruption to our operations" have made the move inevitable.

"We are very disappointed about this development but remain committed to establishing a sustainable Enterprise Agreement," it says.

"This turn of events is regrettable for all concerned. It is important to note that we never left the negotiating table. We are seeking a fair deal for everyone.

"Our hand has been forced. The company has made it clear that it will not conduct Enterprise Agreement negotiations during periods of industrial action.

"We must give our customers the ability to continue to conduct business."

If the dispute spreads to other states, there could be supply chain impacts due to huge extra volumes through Patrick’s terminals, if MUA workers within them don’t escalate the dispute in support of their DP World colleagues.

One of the nation’s more aggressive unions, it has industrial action underway in other Western Australian ports, the MUA greeted the stevedore’s mooted action with strong language.

WA deputy branch secretary Adrian Evans describes it as "an extraordinary overreaction".

"I am sure no one will be quick to forget DP World’s excessive response," Evans says.

"We notified the company that we would take limited action to minimise impact on DP World’s clients but they have responded irresponsibly by threatening to cause disruption and chaos.

"The relationship the company has with its workers is already at an all-time low and this latest move will do more damage than good."

MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said this contemptuous move has proved that the company and its executives never took the negotiating process seriously.

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