Thursday, August 1, 2019

Industrial Dispute in Docks Expands as International Unions Protest

Automation and Subcontract Labour at the Heart of Dispute
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – It seems industrial action is in vogue in the transport industry at the moment, with British Airways pilots winning the right to strike in the UK Courts whilst, across the other side of the world, the dispute between logistics outfit DP World Australia (DPWA) and those employed in its four countywide container freight terminals remain at loggerheads over the growth of automation in the docks and the use of subcontract labour.

The latest bulletin from the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which represents 18.5 million workers globally, claims that the Australian wharfies now have the support of its members across the Middle East, Asia, Europe, Africa, North America, South America and the Pacific, all of whose representatives have written to the UAE based operator to put their case.

Of course in these situations rarely are the actual workers consulted on their individual positions, and in many more modern ports around the world automation has been installed from the word go and the increased safety appreciated. Those employed often view themselves as technicians rather than dock workers and this clash of cultures is always bound to foment problems.

As their fathers and grandfathers before them stevedores in Australia often view their profession as an hereditary right, and it is the influx of labour, reportedly at lower wages which has really incensed the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) which claims to represent some 16,000 members countrywide.

Now the ITF is making thinly veiled threats as it says management at DP World refuses to negotiate. For its part the company says the outlook financially is ‘challenging’ and union has not made any material concessions to some initial 50 claims it made at the last set of negotiations. These claims allegedly include a wage increase well above CPI with DPWA saying the MUA is showing an ‘alarming’ ignorance of the commercial reality. ITF maritime coordinator, Jacqueline Smith, commented:

“Internationally, unions are alarmed by the actions of DP World Australia and have warned the company’s management in their ports all over the world that these attacks are threatening ongoing good industrial relations with their union and dockers unions worldwide.

“The dispute has been repeatedly escalated by DP World, starting with an attack on income protection, then threats to outsource and automate jobs, and now a refusal to meet with the Maritime Union of Australia to open a dialogue about how job losses can be mitigated through rostering changes instead of forced redundancies.

“ITF affiliates have made clear to DP World management that they strongly condemn any attempt to outsource jobs to lower-paid, non-union contractors at the expense of experienced dock workers, which can only be seen as a union-busting exercise.”

ITF Dockers’ Section vice-chair and International Longshore and Warehouse Union President William Adams referred to recent industrial disputes with the ILWU in Canada and the US that have resulted in mutually agreed settlements that set out worker protections and a negotiating process between the union and employers for automation, continuing:

“Outsourcing and automation have significant impacts on productivity and profitability, as well as major social and community impacts on workers and their communities, which is why any attempt to water down union consultation requirements will be rejected by dockers unions around the globe. Dockers internationally are uniting to take the fight to the doorstep of any employer threatening dockers jobs and working conditions, and right now DP World are in our sights.”

In January this year parent group DP World took a larger stake in the Australian operation when it acquired shares from a variety of financial operations including Gateway Infrastructure Investments at a cost of around A$ 1.4 billion. Although Gateway managers will retain an interest the company became a consolidated entity within the Dubai based group’s portfolio.