Tuesday, January 3, 2012

More Industrial Turmoil in Supply Chain as Freight Handlers Locked Out of Container Terminal

Drivers Laid Off as Boxes Build Up
Shipping News Feature

AUSTRALIA – Battle lines are being drawn as unions start to flex their collective muscles with the adoption of new worker friendly policies by the Labour Government. Industrial actions are to be seen across the country and the freight and logistics industries are being particularly hard hit with stoppages in one sector causing lay offs elsewhere along the supply chain.

We have witnessed the Qantas dispute linger on and now there have been disputes arising at ports in Western Australia with stevedoring group POAGS shutting out workers in the run up to Christmas who refused to work full shift citing safety concerns. POAGS executives said the slow downs were unnecessary and had believed ongoing negotiations were proving productive until the union called the men to change tactics.Management of several national corporations have stated that the onus is now on employers to demonstrate that any changes they introduce to maintain profitability are not aimed at reducing union power.

The latest dispute is having a detrimental effect on haulage operators in and around the port of Outer Harbour, South Australia’s only port where a container backlog is building up and drivers have been laid off when the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) started action against container terminal managers DP World saying the company had refused wage demands accusing the international port group of being encouraged by Qantas’s tactics.

DP World has issued two statements, including one today, stating that four days of negotiation in December over wages and productivity were unsuccessful after which the MUA took industrial action to disrupt operations across the company’s five Australian terminals. Actions included bans on overtime, refusal to vary shift patterns in accordance with current agreements, late calls for absence and refusal to operate container handling equipment for the full shift.

These tactics led to a 30% drop in output making operations uneconomic which led to DP World taking Protected Action (under the Fair Work Act 2009) of locking out employees at the container terminal in Adelaide for 24 hours from 6am Tuesday 3rd January to 6am Wednesday 4th January 2012. The company says it believes the terms and productivity targets it has offered are both reasonable and achievable and that the unions current demands are unsustainable and would mean an increase of almost A$60 million in operating costs, over the three year life of the proposed Enterprise Agreement. Today’s statement further says:

“In addition to wages and employment condition claims, the union has made a request for increases to Superannuation entitlements in advance of the proposed Commonwealth Superannuation Guarantee reforms. DP World has offered an increase in the superannuation contribution however we have not made this conditional upon achieving productivity targets.”

Older UK readers will no doubt remember very similar actions before the advent of containerisation which plagued London and other British ports. Australia it seems is suffering a political tempest over employment conditions at a time when many elsewhere, both corporations and employees alike, are more concerned with maintaining jobs as the status quo appears much more attractive than a possibly bleaker future.