The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has intervened in the emerging industrial dispute between Patrick Stevedores and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) to remind Patrick, a number of international shipping companies, and even the Australian government, that they are undermining the human rights of the port workers to collectively bargain for a fair industrial agreement.
Patrick should accept MUA ‘olive branch’ and end conflict
ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton said the global union federation was increasingly concerned at the rhetoric emanating from of the Australian government, as Prime Minister Scott Morrison this week threatened to send troops to break the port workers’ legal industrial action and deny them their rights under Australian legislation and international law.
“We have a situation where these dock workers have followed the letter of the law. They have worked round-the-clock to keep supply chains flowing during this pandemic and keep shelves stocked. Now it comes time for these workers to stand up to stop their employer’s deep cuts to their workplace conditions, and they have their own government piling on against them, frankly, in an hysterical and anti-democratic manner.”
"As I understand it, the MUA has not once, but three times now, offered to roll over the existing agreement to avoid unnecessary conflict at a difficult time for Australia and the world,” said Cotton.
Cotton said the MUA had worked hard to ensure the dispute did not adversely affect the Australian people, “the same people that these dockers have proudly kept supplied through the pandemic”. On 2 September 2020, the MUA wrote to Patrick requesting measures to ensure medical supplies could make it through any protected industrial action.
“More than a fortnight ago, the MUA offered to suspend all industrial action at Patrick terminals if the company would suspend its attempts to strip away existing workplace conditions and resume meaningful negotiations. The company rejected this offer.”
“It is clear to international observers that while the MUA is extending olive branches, Patrick Stevedores and their allies in the Morrison government are intent on escalating this conflict as part of Patrick’s plot to slash the wages and conditions of these essential workers.”
“It appears that Patrick Stevedores is attempting to manufacture a crisis at Port Botany, so that the company can advance its plans to slash 30 pages of workplace conditions.”
“This dispute carries the long shadow of the 1998 Waterfront Dispute when a previous Liberal Party government supported the covert training of a strike-breaking workforce and Liberal ministers used their platforms to demonise dockers and their families.”
"Let us be extremely clear: the international union movement will not idly stand by and allow a repeat of what was attempted in 1998. We will use all our global strength and extensive networks to defend the rights of these Australian workers, even if the Australian government will not,” said Cotton.
Global shipping lines put on notice
ITF Maritime Coordinator Jacqueline Smith said the ITF would be having conversations with at least two major international shipping companies whom the federation believes have involved themselves in the dispute on the side of the port company.
“We understand that ships have been needlessly diverted from Botany to other Australian ports, despite there not being any industrial action taking place intended to slow down or stop cargo,” said Smith.
“There is a risk that these companies could create the false impression that the dockers of Port Botany are somehow responsible for the companies’ decisions to divert their ships. The dockers are not responsible.”
“We encourage all companies in the maritime sector to uphold workers’ fundamental rights to collectively bargain and defend their hard-fought workplace conditions: on and off the water. Conduct by shipping companies which suggests that they may be supporting one side or the other undermines the reputation of these companies in a significant and irreparable way,” said Smith.
Dockers solidarity to stop ‘virus-like’ pay cuts from spreading
ITF Dockers’ Section Coordinator, Enrico Tortolano, said that dockers’ unions across the world were now getting prepared to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the MUA.
“The ITF Dockers’ family throughout the world will do everything we can to prevent an industrial hatchet job on our Port Botany sisters and brothers,” said Tortolano.
“It is very telling that Patrick Stevedores have so far been unwilling to roll over the existing contract and instead are demanding big cuts to the workers’ conditions.”
“For the best part of a century, dock workers have been the front line of bringing all working people better wages and conditions. It seems now, in the midst of this pandemic, that dockers are once more asked to hold the line and stop wage and condition cuts from spreading like a virus through society,” said Tortolano.