Sun, May 01, 2011 - Page 11 News List

Dockworkers strike at major Australian ports


Dockworkers at Australia’s three major ports went on a 24-hour walkout yesterday after talks stalled over a protracted wages and conditions dispute, crippling about one-quarter of the nation’s freight.

The powerful Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) called the strike at terminals in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane over after deadlocked contract negotiations with major freight firm Patrick hit a fresh impasse.

A second strike was to begin tomorrow in Fremantle, on Australia’s resources-rich west coast.

Patrick said the work stoppage followed a failure of talks before Fair Work Australia, the industrial umpire, hitting “15 ships, carrying a total of 17,797 containers” — about one-quarter of the nation’s container freight capacity.

“It’s unfortunate that hundreds of Australian exporters and importers including small businesses waiting for deliveries will bear the brunt of the MUA’s actions,” Patrick director Paul Garaty said. “We will continue to seek to negotiate through the Fair Work Australia process, which is the proper way to handle this dispute, not by strikes which disadvantage Australians.”

Patrick and the MUA have been at loggerheads for almost eight months over pay and conditions and strike action was approved by industrial authorities earlier this year in the event of talks breaking down.

Dockworkers want a 6 percent pay rise, increased superannuation, annual and long service leave and a safety supervisor for every shift, following four deaths on the wharves in five years.

“It’s about our conditions of work, about having a safe workplace and about having a career,” said Kevin Bracken, Victoria state secretary of the MUA.

“In the bulk and general business, 60 percent of the workers are casually employed with no annual leave, no holidays, no long-service leave, no guarantee that they are going to work there ever again,” he told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.

The previous workplace contract expired in October last year and Bracken accused Patrick of stalling, saying it “doesn’t want to make an agreement and is using it as a wage pause for our members.”

However, Garaty said the union’s demands “will add a further A$120 million [US$131.6 million] to the company’s costs over a three-year period, in addition to other claims that seek to reintroduce rigid work practices that would hamper productivity.”

“To agree to the union’s excessive claims with no productivity offsets would only serve to undermine Patrick’s ability to compete and deliver job security in the long term,” Garaty said.

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