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Waterfront volatility focuses on Hutchison backlash

DP World may have its own problems as MUA raises enterprise bargaining impasse


As regulatory efforts to ensure national stevedoring competition lies in tatters, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Hutchison Ports Australia are before the Fair Work Commission (FWC) today thrashing out issues surrounding the sacking of nearly half its workforce of 224.

The MUA has spent the weekend mustering support nationally among other unions and internationally in the maritime sphere while containers destined to be trucked railed from at least one ship have failed to be unloaded.

The Hutchison issue has somewhat overshadowed enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) issues at Hutchison rival DP World, where any disruption will be felt much more heavily in the container transport sector nationally.

The MUA’s Queensland branch has quoted a DP World delegate as saying: “At DP World, we now believe we have exhausted the EBA negotiation process, to the point that we have no choice but to look at protected industrial action . . . Initially the action will have minimal impact on customers, and we hope even at this stage DP World may have some common sense and look at the three issues outstanding . . . We’ve offset the costs of what we’re asking through new working arrangements on the cranes, so DP World have no good reason not to agree.”

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has long urged greater competition for Australia’s state-controlled waterfronts but concerted action in support of the goal has not been forthcoming.

Now Hutchison has flagged a reduction in services due to “substantial financial losses” and an inability to garner market share amongst shipping lines since its entry into the Australian market.

Its effort to create a national service offering was undermined significantly after losing a bid for Webb Dock in the country’s biggest container port, Melbourne, to an extremely high offer from rival global operator International Container Terminal Services, Inc (ICTSI), though Hutchison has also pointed to long-term contracts the shipping lines have signed with other stevedoring companies.

“After a consultation process, this redundancy program has now commenced,” chief financial officer Chee Keong Chan says.

“Unfortunately, it will result in 97 job losses between Sydney and Brisbane.

“This has been a difficult decision and follows our announcement six weeks ago that the company is downsizing its service offering to the market.”

The manner of the sackings, by text, has been headline news and gave added impetus to industrial action in response.

Despite an FWC interim order on Friday that all industrial action cease, picket lines were in operation over the weekend.

The ABC reports this morning that at least one ship has left Port Botany still laden and action continues in Brisbane.

Though later clarified, an initial, seemingly unsympathetic, response by federal employment minister Eric Abetz to the sackings were leaped on by MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin amongst others.

“The MUA utterly rejects the suggestion that the company is reducing its Australian operations due to a lack of competitiveness,” Crumlin says. 
“Hutchison has been actively subcontracting its existing work out to other stevedores and no-one except the company knows why.

“Any business Hutchison has lost recently has been of its own choosing.
“The MUA believes this is a strategy to increase automation as there are no logical reasons why the company would otherwise give away profitable contracts.
“The union is seeking a fair and objective process where all labour data and modelling are put on the table to determine the true nature and scope of the problem.  
“Employment minister Eric Abetz has let the company off the hook and we expect this matter to be raised this week in federal parliament. Unemployment is rising and the Abbott Government’s continuing failure to stand up for Australian jobs is grating with the public.”

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