Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Australian Dock Workers Row Escalates - This One Could Run and Run  

Automation Means Safer but Less Jobs

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Shipping News Feature AUSTRALIA – It appears the row between dockers unions and container terminal managers at four of the country's most significant ports, which we reported recently, has taken a turn for the worse, with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) threatening to escalate its campaign of industrial action against the nation's largest stevedore.

The union says that 600 Sydney workers will walk off the job for 48 hours from tomorrow morning (July 18), while 350 Brisbane wharfies will commence a series of one hour strikes at the start of every shift. In Fremantle, work will stop for 24 hours from Saturday morning.

The latest strike action follows a series of coordinated stoppages that shut DP World container terminals for between 48 and 96 hours last week, involving more than 1800 wharfies in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle. Meanwhile it says workers at all four terminals are also maintaining a range of indefinite work bans, including bans on upgrades, overtime, and shift extensions.

Andrew Adam, Chief Operating Officer at DP World Australia has made it clear to the union, part of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining & Energy Union (CFMMEU) that the company expects concessions from them, one of the main complaints from them being about automation, a factor which has always caused a prickle of anger to dock workers worldwide, but a fact of life that simply keeps developing, often resulting in less, but safer jobs.

There has been a seismic shift in the way cargo is handled and many of the ports around the world have embraced the changes, not so it seems the MUA which says, in addition to its strong objections to automation, it is protesting some other matters, outsourcing to non-union labour, cuts to conditions such as income protection and, somewhat bizarrely, in support of domestic violence provisions in the new agreement.

Stalemate seemingly exists as, whilst the MUA says it remains available to sit down with the company to find a resolution and has consistently sought meetings at a national and branch level, these have been rejected by DP World management which for its part says it will meet if the union has anything to offer. MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said:

 

“Rather than bargain, management have basically told workers to withdraw their claims entirely and accept the company’s offer or there will be no agreement. We simply will not do this. Most of the worker’s claims are not cost claims, they are about protecting our current conditions which were hard won and fought for historically by a previous generation. It’s not up to us to undo the historical legacy of wharfies and we won’t.

“Wharfies won’t accept selling their jobs to non-union labour at lower rates and then having those contractors work alongside them on a daily basis. Our jobs are not for sale. We also want job saving protections and commitments from the company covering any future decision to replace wharfies with robots at these terminals. The escalation of this rolling industrial action is driven by our members and we support them 100% in protecting their jobs for future generations.”

That last statement is very reminiscent of the speeches of Jack Dash et al in the London docks in the 1960’s and 70’s when dock workers expected not only a job for life, but to be able to pass the work onto a family member when retirement came. The fight against containerisation followed, to be swamped by the fact that the boxes simply took the power, and the jobs, away from the wharves, to the inland point of loading.

One feels perhaps that, in an age when technology is being used to strive for a safer (and it has to be said) more profitable world, with ports in fiercer competition that ever before, this is a fight that sees two very different philosophies in a stand-off which is likely to get worse before it gets better.

Photo: DP World Fremantle.

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