Port operations nationwide feel sting of tug strike

NSW Ports says the stoppages are causing cost to operators and loss in trade

Port operations nationwide feel sting of tug strike
Svitzer’s plea to terminate the strikes was rejected by the Fair Work Commission


Tug engineers working for Svitzer Australia are continuing their 24-hour strikes across ports in News South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia over dispute regarding a proposed new enterprise agreement.

The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers’ (AIMPE) Martin Byrne said almost all of the commercial shipping would be affected at all ports, with exemptions for cruise ships, military ships and the ones facing safety issues.

The strikes began last week in Sydney and Geelong before moving to Brisbane.

Tug and salvage company Svitzer’s new enterprise agreement proposes to consolidate the three agreements (one each for tug engineers, deckhands and tug skippers) into one, which the AIMPE says will reduce qualification requirements for engineers.

Svitzer is now offering its entire workforce an opportunity to vote on the proposed enterprise agreement this week.

While Svitzer says the new agreement has the "in-principle support" of the Maritime Union of Australia and the Australian Maritime Officers Union, the AIMPE says it will recommend its members to vote against the agreement.

Loss to business

NSW Ports CEO Marika Calfas says at least 13 ships will be affected during the stoppage period at Port Botany alone.

"The rule of thumb is that for every 24 hours of delay, it takes about four days to catch up," Calfas says.

"That is because Port Botany is also a busy port so we don't have gaps between days where there is nothing happening. We have always got ships coming in, ships going out."

Calfas says the strike is affecting both trade and cost to operators as each ship delayed costs more than $50,000 per day.

"The disruptions have wide-ranging implications across all parts of the port's supply chain on the waterside and also on the landside.

"Disruptions to efficient port operations result in added costs to businesses and consumers," she says.

"Not just in Sydney and NSW but across Australia and they also have the potential to impact on Australia's reputation as a place to do business."

Ports Australia CEO David Anderson says, "Svitzer's proposal is not attacking work conditions or remuneration, it is about bringing three man crews of tugs under one agreement.

"It is highly irresponsible for this union [AIMPE], which has a very small presence in the overall port community, to bring everything to a standstill over a structural matter relating to their agreement."

Svitzer action

Svitzer’s application to the Fair Work Commission to terminate the union’s industrial action was rejected last week.

However, the commission made no order on the protected action, which means it could review the action and pass an order to suspend or terminate it if the commission was satisfied that the strike could potentially threaten or endanger safety of the staff or others involved.

In its application to the commission, Svitzer said the strikes posed safety risks to the staff and others involved in port operations, but the commission rejected the claim on the grounds that emergency crew remain unaffected by the stoppage.

Not surprisingly, Svitzer is unhappy with the commission’s decision.

The company says in a statement: "While Svitzer appreciates that under the Fair Work Act, employees have the right to withdraw their labour in pursuit of their industrial goals, we are nonetheless extremely disappointed with the outcome."

"For an island nation like Australia, which relies on the maritime industry to move 99 per cent of its industrial trade, the stoppages will damage the Australian economy and put jobs at risk."

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