Awareness of the Port and Shipping Line actions is now in the public arena (NNF 2020/192)

The Morrison government will intervene to support major stevedore Patrick’s urgent application to the Fair Work Commission to stop industrial action by the Maritime Union of Australia, warning the union’s behaviour during the COVID-19 recession was “simply unforgivable”.

Patrick declared the MUA’s work bans and stoppages at four ports around the country was causing “significant damage to the Australian economy” with millions of dollars lost each day.

In its application to the commission, Patrick said industrial action had occurred since late last month after the union rejected its draft enterprise bargaining agreement that included guaranteed pay rises of 1.5 per cent and 2.5 per cent over four years.

Wharfies employed by Patrick can earn up to $172,000 at Port Botany in Sydney for working 198 days a year.

Patrick said the MUA, which wants a 6 per cent annual wage increase for four years and a further 60 claims for changes to conditions across terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle, has labelled the EBA a “shit agreement”.

Attorney-General Christian Porter said the union’s actions were a “slap in the face to the million Australians currently out of work who must be amazed by the apparent indifference of the union’s leadership to their plight”.

“For a union to be attempting to hold the national economy to ransom to leverage its push for a 6 per cent annual pay rise is simply unforgivable, especially at a time when we are in the grip of a global health and economic crisis,” Mr Porter said.

“Given this threat to our economic recovery, I can confirm that the government will intervene in support of Patrick Terminals’ application to the Fair Work Commission for the MUA to immediately halt its action. It is vital that we see a quick resolution to this dispute.”

Ships stranded

The go-slow action has resulted in 40 container ships off the Australian coast waiting to come into port, according Patrick chief executive Michael Jovicic, with the company three weeks behind schedule at Port Botany and more than a week at Melbourne.

“Patrick Terminals moves around 45 per cent of the containerised freight which passes through the four ports where it operates, equating to many thousands of containers each day,” the submission states.

“For each day of lost operations, the value of disrupted goods is approximately $165.6m in imports and $66.9m in exports. That is between 4.6 per cent and 5.6 per cent of daily gross state product, and 4.4 per cent of daily gross national product.

“Nationally, Patrick has been unable to man 31 per cent of crane teams it would otherwise deploy to service customers; in Port Botany, the reduction has been in the order of 42 per cent, so that Patrick can staff only approximately six out of every 10 quay cranes it would otherwise operate. It cannot complete 37 per cent of container exchanges (45 per cent in Port Botany). This position is continuing to deteriorate.”

Patrick said its ability to catch up on delayed operations was limited by the time-sensitive nature of goods — including agricultural exports and manufacturing and retail products — and might quickly be overwhelmed by delayed vessels and containers, with work bans “all indefinite”.

“The impacts of industrial action are worsened by the current COVID-19 pandemic,” the application says.

“This is so both in respect of potential disruption to the import of essential supplies, and the fragility of the state and Australian economies, and numerous affected industries and sectors at present. Having regard to the indefinite nature of the bans that are in place, the effect of them will inevitably be to cause significant damage to the Australia economy and the relevant important parts of it.”

The leading container terminal operator has asked the Fair Work Commission to terminate protected industrial action but says at the least it must be suspended.

‘Medicines at risk’

Health Minister Greg Hunt said there would be “shortfalls” of medicine “in some weeks, in some cases” due to the industrial dispute, with Australians caught in the middle.

“The companies are trying to work around it, we’re trying to work with them, but oncology, arthritis, cardiovascular, diabetes, all of these medicines are potentially at risk,” he told 2GB radio.

“It’s not just a delay, if they have to be transferred from ship to plane or other things, there’s a risk that you would have a temperature breach if they’re cold-controlled and therefore the medicines could be ruined.”

MUA rejects Patrick’s application as ‘fearmongering’

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin accused Patrick and the Morrison government of making “false claims” that limited, legally protected industrial action was causing major shipping delays, including to medical supplies.

Patrick’s legal action would expose the “extraordinary and unfounded claims”.

“It is nothing more than an attempt to use community fear to force through attacks on workplace rights,” Mr Crumlin said.

“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. 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.”

Mr Crumlin said the union had unsuccessfully offered 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”.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Paul Damkjaer

Chief Executive Officer