At stake on our waterfront:

The Howard-Reith Government has brought its version of 'industrial relations' to Webb Dock: an unprecedented 'security' operation, complete with professional strike breakers and a mini-army supplied with truncheons and riot shields by Kennett's prisons. Federal and State anti-union laws aim to strip workers of the means to defend their jobs and their union.

Of course, we are supposed to believe that what's going on in Port Melbourne is simply an energetic business venture by industrious farmers. It is not. In fact, at stake is the most basic right of workers to organise themselves into trade unions. All working people must recognise this attack for the naked state union-busting it is. The right to organise in unions is ours: we must fight to defend it!

Support the Maritime Union!
Defend our union rights!

ACTU | Maritime Union of Australia | Victorian Trades Hall Council

Cairns,, Port Melbourne

The Government wants us to believe that the dispute at Webb Dock is about struggling farmers trying to increase productivity on the waterfront while the union protects lazy workers' high pay and cosy conditions. In truth, it is a concerted effort by sections of big business, together with the State and Federal governments, to spearhead an attack on all wages and conditions by attacking the right of workers to organise in unions and to bargain collectively.

The Maritime Union of Australia is the immediate target of this attack because they have a proud history of improving pay and conditions of workers on the wharves which were once the most dangerous and exploitative of workplaces. The MUA also has a long history of progressive struggle such as supporting citizenship rights for Australian Aborigines and the Indonesion struggle for independence from Dutch colonialism.

It is useful to test the truth of some of the statements made by the Government.

Myth: Wharfies are extremely privileged and all earn more than $80,000 a year for doing almost no work.

Fact: The average award rate for stevedores is around $30,000 for a 35 hour week. In big container terminals, workers earn good wages by working up to 80 hours a week at all times of the day and night. The employers refuse to employ more staff and demand that workers do excessive overtime.

Donald McGauchie from the NFF, on the other hand, is a multi millionaire and one of the largest land owners in Queensland.

Myth: The NFF's company is a sincere attempt to bring competition into the wharves and help the battling farmers who need to be able to export their produce.

Fact: Webb Dock handles no produce.

The company moved into the wharf at the dead of night with a private army with batons and riot shields, then locked out the workers who were rostered to work there.

The move is opposed by many farmers and the grain growers' organisations.

The MUA has exempted farm produce from industrial action for over 10 years and has held up no farm cargo.


Myth: Productivity at Australian Ports is below international standards and this is the fault of the Maritime Union.

Fact: The waterfront has changed enormously in the last 10 years. The workforce has been reduced by 50%, but the volume of cargo handled has increased. Container lift rates have increased by approximately 20% in the 5 years to 1997. The union has worked for change, but it must be co-operative, not imposed.

Productivity is determined by a number of factors, most of which are not controlled by the union. In many terminals, the equipment is twenty years out of date and there are too few cranes to achieve international productivity levels. The size of the ships and the stowage areas are also limiting factors on productivity.

In bulk handling, such as grain, coal and iron ore, Australian docks are amoungst the best in the world. The bumper 1997 Australian wheat crop of 19 million tonnes was loaded in record time.

Some companies, such as SeaLand, who provide up to date eqipment and negotiate with the union, have productivity rates which are equal to those at any similar port around the world. ABC Radio's 30 January interview with SeaLand's Captain Andy Andrews included a frank statement of this:

REPORTER: You use maritime union labour. Are you saying it is possible to run an efficient waterfront business in Australia using MUA labour?

ANDREWS: Without a doubt, yes.

P&O, the other major company at the Port of Melbourne, recently wrote to their workers congratulating them on productivity increases achieved with the involvement of the MUA - a 34% increase in one year and a record for a facility in Australia. Patrick Stevedoring also wrote to workers congratulating them on productivity increases achieved.

How you can support the struggle

Contact your union to find out how you can support the struggle. Organise meetings in your workplace to discuss the issue, contact your Trades Hall or Labour Council to organise a speaker at workplace meetings.

Write letters to the editor and phone talk back radio, expressing your support for the MUA.

Raise money or contribute personally to the ACTU Campaign Fund. Contributions to the Campaign Fund can be handed to your union or to your Trades Hall or Labour Council.

It is essential that all working people recognise that the attack on the MUA is an attack on us all. Their fight is our fight.

FACT SHEET NO. 1 - 3 February 1998
Authorised: John Coombs, MUA; Greg Combet, ACTU; Leigh Hubbard, VTHC

The above information is an exact text reproduction of Fact Sheet No 1.
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