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Patrick to seek FWC intervention in MUA dispute

Other related sectors welcome move given container-chain disruption


Patrick Terminals has applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) seeking to end the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) industrial action, which is causing huge container-chain disruption, particularly in Sydney.

Patrick seeks an urgent hearing this week, with a view to terminating protected industrial action at Patrick terminals in Sydney, Melbourne Brisbane and Fremantle.

The container stevedore spent much of the past two weeks being urged by other container-logistics interests to take this action and the news comes after the MUA and fellow stevedore DP World Australia (DPWA) came to an understanding late on Friday..

The company says it has also contacted federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter asking that the Commonwealth intervene in the proceedings.

“Frankly enough is enough,” Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic says.

“We have been in talks for seven months on a new enterprise agreement and the

“MUA have been inflicting strikes, go slows and work bans on the company for nearly a month.

“The union is threatening to ramp up the industrial action this week and has notified of a 24 hour strike at Port Botany on Friday.

“As a result of the MUA action there are now 40 container ships off the Australian coast waiting to come into port.

“Port Botany is running three weeks behind schedule and our Melbourne terminal more than a week.

“We now have close to 90 thousand containers being held up and there’s no end in sight.

“I’m bewildered that the MUA would take such damaging action in the midst of a pandemic. It’s unAustralian and does them no credit.

“Many of our employees have told us they don’t want to be a part of the industrial action but are fearful of retribution by the MUA.

“This is completely understandable but the reality is they are damaging the business and their own livelihoods.

“It’s time to bring this to an end and hopefully the Fair Work Commission will do that.”

For its part, the MUA remains typically staunch.

It insists “false claims that limited, legally-protected industrial action at Patrick’s Port Botany container terminal is causing major shipping delays, including to medical supplies, are nothing more than an attempt to use community fear to force through attacks on workplace rights”.

It argues that claims that 40 container ships were sitting off the NSW coast waiting to unload was “an outright lie, with vessels due to berth at Patrick’s terminal in the coming days all still travelling towards Sydney” and that Patrick’s terminal there is currently unloading several vessels, with more due to arrive this week.

It repeats that the only industrial action that has occurred at the Patrick container terminal in Port Botany has been a single four-hour stoppage about four weeks ago, along with bans on working excessive hours.

“In recent days, Patrick management cancelled three consecutive night shifts – on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights – preventing any containers from being unloaded or transported from the terminal,” the MUA charges.

“Patrick also closed the terminal for eight hours at the start of the month to undertake civil construction works.

This morning, wharfies asked Patrick management to identify any containers carrying medical supplies, either on the dock or on berthed vessels, so they could be prioritised. Supervisors were unable to identify a single medical container in need of transport.

“The MUA wrote to Patrick at the start of the September seeking to arrange measures to ensure medical supplies were not impacted by industrial action. That approach was rejected by Patrick.

“The MUA last week wrote to Patrick offering to suspend all industrial action at Patrick terminals for a month, if the company withdrew attempts to strip away existing workplace conditions and resume meaningful negotiations. That offer was also rejected.”

According to the union, in June, the MUA offered Patrick a 12 month rollover of the current workplace agreement with a 2.5 per cent wage increase, allowing the company to get through Covid crisis.

“The company rejected that offer, instead proposing a new agreement that would strip away 50 pages of conditions covering things like family-friendly rosters, salaries and other workplace conditions.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin accuses Patrick management of deliberately escalating the dispute in an attempt to use political and public concerns to drive through cuts to workplace conditions.

“The company has also stood down 32 workers at the port in an attempt to escalate conflict at the Port Botany terminal,” Crumlin says.

“The Australian public are falling victim to deliberate provocation by a multinational corporation willing to go to any length to slash the workplace rights and conditions of their workforce.”

Crumlin adds the company’s application to the Fair Work Commission to halt protected industrial action would expose the fact that delays have overwhelmingly been the result of management, rather than union actions.” 

Read how other bodies called on Patrick to approach the FWC, here

Two organisations that urged Patrick to take this action, road haulage body Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) and containership lobby Shipping Australian Ltd (SAL), welcomed the move.

“In [New South Wales] alone, congestion in the Patrick Port Botany Terminal is likely to cost container road transport operators over $1 million per month in lost truck turnaround time productivity,” CTAA says

“In addition, the flow-on impact to empty container management in Sydney has cost the transport sector alone over $5 million in additional handling, storage, administration and added truck kilometres travelled.

“If the actions are allowed to continue in NSW, and escalate in other States, more damaging economic impacts will occur in the container transport logistics chain.”

“Already in Melbourne for instance, by Patrick’s own projections, vessel berthing delays at Patrick East Swanson Terminal have risen from just over 3 days’ delay at the beginning of September, to approaching nine days’ delay now.

“In Brisbane, the vessel delays are now over four days, and Fremantle is approaching three days’ delay.”

“Inevitably, the vessel delays will lead to terminal congestion, with flow-on impacts to road & rail transfers to and from all of Patrick’s terminals around the Australian coast.”

“We’d hope that in considering this application, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) agrees that such actions should not be allowed to threaten the livelihoods of countless businesses and employees in the container logistics chain and the broader economy.”

We’d hope too that the Federal Minister for Industrial Relations, Christian Porter, is prepared to intervene in the proceedings, just as the Federal Government was prepared to do so with the previous application to the FWC made by DP World Australia.

“Australia is in recession, and our economic road to recovery needs everybody to pull together. We can’t afford for selfish actions to be taken by a few that will impact significantly on the economic pain being suffered by many.”

Long-term MUA foe SAL underlines that it strongly supported by Shipping Australia.

“Any disruption to trade at our ports causes harm to Australian businesses, consumers and our broader economy,” SAL CEO Rod Nairn says.

“This round of waterfront industrial action during a global pandemic and a national economic crisis is reckless, grossly irresponsible and utterly inappropriate.

“When our fellow Australians are losing their jobs and are desperately anxious about how they can pay their bills, this selfish industrial action is out of step with current reality.

“Most of Patrick’s workers are already earning at least $150,000 per year for 180 days of work. A lot of Australians would be very pleased to have such an opportunity.

“Australia’s container trade is vital to our economy and container terminals are the key node in that trade. The current industrial restrictions in place at Patrick have reduced container movements by around 40 per cent and ships’ waiting time for a berth at Port Botany is up to about 18 days.

“Ships cannot afford to wait this long, so the result is that ships are now bypassing New South Wales and some imports are being delayed by weeks. This doesn’t work for modern just-in-time supply chains.

“And the long-term damage to our economy is even worse. With a log jam of containers and slow work rates causing export containers to be left behind on the wharf Australia is made to look like an unreliable supplier.

“This could adversely affect our future exports because our current customers will look elsewhere for reliable supply.

“It takes a long time to build a reputation for reliability but only weeks to destroy it. This industrial action must end, and it must end now.”



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