Monday, July 8, 2019

Striking Dock Workers - Luddites or Tolpuddle Martyrs? You Decide

Wharfies Down Tools Over Automation and Outsourcing
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – Dock workers, or 'wharfies' as they are referred to locally, are striking for 48 hours at DP World's Brisbane, Sydney and Fremantle container terminals, and for 96 hours in Melbourne, to fight against 'automation, outsourcing and cuts to income protection insurance', in the words of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), a division of the Construction Forestry Maritime Mining & Energy Union (CFMMEU).

The industrial action follows the expiry of a three month cease-fire agreement between DP World Australia (DPWA) and the MUA, which the union claims saw the company press ahead with a ‘savage agenda of job cuts and attacks on rights and conditions’. It further claims income protection for workers remains as a target of the company.

A two day strike began in Brisbane this morning (8 July) which is the first in a series of stoppages planned for container terminals run by Australia’s largest stevedore outfit. Sydney and Fremantle workers will strike this Thursday and Friday, and Melbourne will be out from Wednesday until Sunday morning.

Union workers have also imposed a range of indefinite work bans, including bans on upgrades, overtime, and shift extensions. DP World challenged the rights of the Maritime Union of Australia to use bans in the Fair Work Commission (FWC), with a decision pending on Monday. The union claims that the restriction on utilising the bans is what forced it into strike action after the FWC agreed with the company such actions were illegal.

The strikes will proceed after their protected status was confirmed by the FWC on Friday, when the company sought 418 orders to stop workers using strike action. Fair Work Commissioner Paula Spencer apparently dismissed DPWA’s application and reaffirmed the legal and protected nature of the strikes, stating that they could continue.

Automation is also feared by the union, something which is welcomed by many as it inevitably reduces the risk to human life as dock processes become more dependent on machinery than manpower with the rapid advances seen recently in automated shuttle carrier and crane technology. MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said DPWA management were insisting on including provisions in a new workplace agreement that could see waterfront jobs lost to outsourcing and automation.

Mr Smith also said the company had unnecessarily escalated the conflict earlier this year when it unilaterally stripped workers of income protection insurance. He commented:

“Our members have shown incredible patience in an attempt to reach resolution with DP World, including by agreeing to hold off on any form of industrial action for three months, but despite that good will, management are refusing to budge on these key issues. This major escalation of industrial action is about sending a clear message to management that the safety, dignity, and job security of wharfies are absolutely non-negotiable.

“We are fully committed to reaching an agreement as quickly as possible, however we will not sell our conditions, compromise our core claims, or undermine industry standards to do it. Our members have delivered huge increases in productivity to DP World in recent years, which resulted in substantial profits, and all workers want is to receive a fair reward for those efforts.”

“Management initially used the wellbeing of workers and their families as a bargaining tool, and wharfies don’t take kindly to that kind of corporate bullying and intimidation. The attacks on wharfies have been escalated by DPW beyond income protection, with outsourcing, automation and downright dishonest bargaining processes by DPW being targeted by workers.

”We will not roll over and accept an unfair agreement, we won’t accept unilateral attacks on workplace rights and conditions, and we won’t stand by while outsourcing and automation are used to axe quality jobs from the Australian waterfront.”

For its part DP World expressed disappointment that the CFMMEU had chosen to escalate their industrial action across its terminals, particularly at a time when shipping lines are reviewing stevedore contracts. It says that, during the recent 12-week bargaining period, the Union did not make any material concessions to their initial 50 claims. These claims include a wage increase well above CPI, without any willingness to support the needs of DPWA.

This it says ‘continues to demonstrate an alarming refusal to acknowledge the commercial reality of the intense competition from automated competitors’. Unprecedented consolidation of, and changes to global shipping lines calling at Australian ports, combined with surplus stevedoring capacity are contributing to DPWA’s challenging financial outlook.

In view of this the company says it will continue maintain that it will make an enterprise agreement on terms that secure the long-term, ongoing sustainability of the business, Andrew Adam, Chief Operating Officer at DPWA, concluding:

“The industrial action will cause significant disruption to DPWA customers and importantly the broader supply chain of shippers, exporters and importers. DPWA employees will also be unnecessarily and avoidably impacted by these lost earnings. The Company has put forward its position and the Union must now make appropriate concessions to their extensive list of claims.”