Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Transport Unions Criticise Port Operator After Another Quayside Accident

Meanwhile Peace Breaks Out Further North
Shipping News Feature
AUSTRALIA – HONG KONG – PAPUA NEW GUINEA – PHILIPPINES – Good and bad news from the maritime union sector this week with the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) severely criticising one international port operator over safety concerns after one of its workers was critically injured, whilst applauding what appears to be an amicable pay settlement with another.

A woman driving a shuttle carrier which collided with another at the Botany Bay terminal operated by Hutchison Ports on April 19 is in an induced coma in St George Hospital, Kogarah. The male driver of the other container shifter was also hospitalised for blood and urine tests. The 55 year old woman was thrown from her cabin by the crash hitting the tarmac 7 metres below.

Following the deaths of four Hutchison staff at the JICT facility in Jakarta in the past year and a half the ITF’s Executive Board met in London last week and passed a resolution ‘strongly urging Hutchison Ports to address a pattern of serious health and safety incidents across their global operations.’ The woman is a member of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) whose National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin, is also President of the ITF. He commented:

“We extend our thoughts to our member, her family, and say to them, and workers in Hutchison terminals globally, this only strengthens our resolve to make sure that every dock worker comes home safely to his or her family. This is the latest case in a pattern of serious health and safety incidents that have occurred recently in Hutchison terminals. In the past 18 months in the Asia Pacific region alone, there have been four fatal incidents at Hutchison’s JICT terminal in Jakarta.

“Reports that MUA officials were not allowed on site, and that Hutchison has failed its obligations under local laws due to a lack of consultation with Health and Safety Representatives in the lead-up to this tragic accident, are highly concerning. Hutchison is the biggest stevedore in the world and has an obvious responsibility to its global workforce to meet occupational health and safety requirements.”

We put these details to Hutchison at its Hong Kong headquarters but they have not responded. Local news sources however report the company had said the ITF was being ‘opportunistic’ in its comments, in a statement saying:

”[Hutchison Ports is] disappointed that a serious injury to one of our highly valued employees in Australia has been used opportunistically by the ITF. It is both irresponsible and insensitive for anyone to exploit this incident, especially whilst the worker remains in hospital and staff are being counselled. It is especially inappropriate to make comment in circumstances where investigations remain ongoing and the primary objective should be the welfare of all workers involved in this very sad event.

”A safe work environment for all our workers around the world is a top priority for us and Hutchison Ports makes substantial investment in remote control work station technology to re-engineer and improve the work place environment for our employees.”

A full investigation is still under way into this latest incident involving both Police and government appointed safety regulators, and details will doubtless be released in due course. This specific type of accident will presumably diminish in number over time as more ports around the world opt for container sorting using autonomous shuttle carriers, ironically something often resisted by dockers’ unions.

A few thousand kilometres north of Botany Bay relations between the ITF and Philippine port operator International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) seem finally to have warmed a little after months of local, worker-led protest and much bickering over pay and conditions for staff at the company’s two ports in Papua New Guinea.

As usual there are of course still points of dispute after the local PNG Maritime and Transport Workers’ Union (PNGMTWU) signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) with ICTSI management which apparently agrees not to cut the workers’ pay as had been proposed. Paddy Crumlin sets out his side of the story:

“This Memorandum of Agreement is a significant victory for workers who were looking down the barrel of a 50% wage cut. The ITF congratulates the PNGMTWU and its members for digging in and demanding the pay and conditions that PNG dockworkers have fought for over decades. However the ITF remains concerned that 213 workers are still without a contract after receiving termination notices from the former concession holder at Port Moresby. The transition of these jobs to the new Motukea terminal needs to be urgently addressed by ICTSI.

“The ITF and its affiliate PNGMTWU have drawn constant international attention to this dispute and forced ICTSI to guarantee pre-existing wage rates, industry conditions and protections after the company had cut wages back to the legal minimum. Trade unions across the world will now be watching to ensure that ICTSI honours all of its commitments in PNG, by protecting the jobs of existing dockworkers on decent pay and conditions.

“This sits in sharp contrast to ICTSI’s industrial relations practices elsewhere in the world. For this to be real progress ICTSI must extend this respect for workers’ across the entirety of the company’s global operations. The ITF is prepared to work with ICTSI to progress the fundamental rights of all workers across its global network, to end the exploitation of its global workforce, recognise trade unions and stop undermining the wages, conditions and safety of its workforce.”

Photo: The damaged cab of the shuttle carrier form which the dock worker fell. Courtesy 7 News.