New war on the wharves

Submitted by AWL on 3 October, 2018 - 9:17 Author: Gerry Bates

Hutchison Ports, part of the C K Hutchison conglomerate, is one of the biggest container terminal operators in the world.
It has launched a new and big offensive against workers in its Australian terminals.

In 2015, shortly after Workers' Liberty supporter Bob Carnegie won the Branch Secretary election in Queensland for the MUA, Australia's port workers and seafarers union, Hutchison summarily sacked almost half its workforce in its two Australian terminals, Brisbane (Queensland) and Sydney. Australian anti-union law, even more restrictive in Britain, makes all industrial action lawful only at collective-agreement-renewal time, over the terms of that agreement,, (and not even then). By campaigning including 24 hour community assemblies at the terminal gates, the union eventually got almost all the workers reinstated, on new terms but not much worse.

Since then, in Brisbane though not so much in Sydney, the firm has deliberately and even perversely ramped up its numbers of casuals. Before the 2015 dispute, and even today in the Brisbane Patricks container terminal just across a fence on the same shoreline, all workers were permanents. Now the terminal has more workers than in 2015, but about half are casuals.

It has long been clear to MUA members that the Brisbane terminal's current strategy is unworkable. The company spends a lot on training casuals (inadequately), and then since it can offer them no steady work they go to other employers.
Now Hutchison is on a cost-cutting drive.

They flagged up a new approach in August by trying to sack lead union delegate Joe Johnston on trivial workplace-misconduct grounds. The union eventually pushed that back to a five-month suspension without pay.

Now, in the negotiations for a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement, Hutchison has demanded vast cost-cutting.
All employees to be put on irregular shifts and made subject to being called into work at short notice. Wages cut by about A$20,000 a year. Work week extended from 30 hours to 35-to-42. Several key jobs to be "outsourced" to subcontractors. Removal of much of the PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) supplied by the company, of long-service leave, of the established grievance procedure, of parental leave above the statutory minimum, etc.

Container terminals worldwide are currently prospering a bit better than they have done for mostdxx of the time since 2008-9, but if Hutchison gets away with this, it will set a benchmark for cost-cutting by other terminal operators in the new downturn which is inevitable sometime and possibly soon. The MUA is determined to resist.

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