MUA threatens further strikes at Patrick terminals

Patrick seeks Fair Work Commission's decision to cancel next week’s strikes pending further negotiations

MUA threatens further strikes at Patrick terminals
Patrick’s four terminals handle almost 45 per cent of all container cargo in Australia


Patrick is once again embroiled in a waterfront dispute, though it may not be as dramatic – at least as yet – as the dispute of 1998 when the company sacked its entire workforce to be replaced by a non-unionised workforce in order to increase productivity.

All Patrick terminals across Australia were shut off yesterday for 24 hours as a result of an ongoing dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Patrick over issues related to job security and pay.

This strike combined with that of the tug engineers is having a knock-on effect in the container haulage sector, with firms involved reporting disruption to shifts and rostering along with last-minute changes to work programs.

Following the nationwide strikes this week, the union is planning a 48-hour stoppage at Port Botany commencing Monday, January 25, along with coordinated four-hour stoppages in Melbourne and Brisbane.

A Patrick spokesman says, "If this industrial action continues, it is likely to have consequences well beyond our terminal gates."

"The fortunes of countless businesses, both big and small, and the families and communities they support Australia-wide will be adversely affected without timely access to containerised goods."

On Tuesday, the company applied to the Fair Work Commission to have next week’s strikes cancelled pending further negotiations with the union.

The application will be reviewed on Thursday.

Patrick’s previous application, which stated that the strikes raised health and safety concerns for the staff, was rejected by the commission on the grounds that the emergency crew remained unaffected by the stoppages.

Patrick claims that the union is seeking a $285 increase in the amount paid to Port Botany stevedores which would result in the stevedores getting paid $995 for an eight-hour shift on Sundays.

Patrick director Alexandra Badenoch says the demands made by the union are "very unreasonable".

"Port Botany (in Sydney) is the standout in the claim that would be a 53 per cent increase in our labour costs," Badenoch says.

In other states it would "add less than 10 per cent to the company’s overall labour costs".

"We think we pay a fair day’s wage for the work they do," Badenoch says.

Patrick says it will continue its attempts to negotiate terms with the union and is prepared to face an arbitrator, if the commission decides to call for one.

The company has also indicated that it will call on the Federal Government to intervene in the situation if the union proposes to extend strikes beyond next week.

The government, on the other hand, does not intend to get in the middle of any bargaining negotiations between employer and employee representatives, with Employment Minister Michaelia Cash calling it "a matter for them" to decide.

"It is in the best interests of employees, employers and all Australians to ensure that pay claims remain realistic and maintain Australia's competitiveness and productivity," Cash says.

However, she expresses disapproval over MUA’s decision and says that industrial ­action should be a "last resort" and "never be used to promote unrealistic claims which run contrary to the long-term interests of employees’’.

"Freight, rail and port logistics play a crucial role in ensuring Australia remains productive and competitive in an increasingly globalised economy.

"Actions that compromise productivity and put our international reputation at risk do nothing to serve the ­national interest," Cash says.

But the union insists the issue is "not about wages", it is about ensuring job security for the staff.

MUA’s deputy national secretary Will Tracey backs with the government’s stance saying there is "no need for the Turnbull government to intervene in this protected action, sanctioned by the Fair Work Commission"

Tracey says the negotiations had stretched on this far because the company refused to promise job security to its staff at a time when Asciano (owner of Patrick) was looking into selling the business.

"The union is looking for assurances that the workers will not be used as cannon fodder so that Asciano can look more appealing to shareholders and its potential buyer," he said.

In August last year, Canada's Brookfield Infrastructure made a $9 billion cash-and-share offer for Asciano, an offer soon matched by a Qube Logistics-led consortium that includes Global Infrastructure Partners and Canada Pension Plan Investment Board.

Patrick’s four terminals – Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle – handle almost 45 per cent of all container cargo in Australia as a result the shutdowns are a huge blow to the gross domestic product.

A 2012 research report by Deloitte Access Economics estimated that disruptions to container movement activities at Port of Melbourne and Port of Botany alone cost the economy $40 million per day – a figure that Patrick says still holds true in 2016.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry executive director Bryce Prosser says the strike are "having a major impact" on retail, manufacturing, agriculture and food businesses.

"It's throwing people's 2016 shipment plans out of whack and it means their strategies for shipments coming from places like China and internationally have to be put on hold," Prosser says.

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