British Thatcherite advising Australian port employers
- 20 Feb


In 1990 the former director of Britain's National Association of Port Employers, Nicholas Finney OBE, advised Australian waterfront employers to follow the line of Margaret Thatcher and his organisation in preparing the ground for an assault on the National Dock Labour Scheme. (See Now Finney has turned up in Sydney to comment on the prospect of breaking the Maritime Union of Australia, as Lloyd's List reports.

from Lloyd's List 20 Feb 1998
"Time is up for Australian dockers"

Country at same point as Britain when it scrapped Dock Labour Scheme says lobbyist.

Australia has now crossed the point of no return in its waterfront battle, says Nick Finney, the lobbyist who led the campaign to end the dock labour scheme in Britain's ports. KEVIN CHINNERY reports from Sydney.

Nick Finney, the lobbyist who led the campaign to end the dock labour scheme in Britain, has been a frequent visitor to Australia and has been a speaker at this week's Waterfront and Shipping Reform Congress in Sydney.

Other Congress speakers included Chris Corrigan, chairman of Patrick Stevedores, whose company remains at the centre of union efforts to end a sub-leasing deal allowing a non-union stevedore into the Melbourne waterfront.

Mr. Corrigan said he leased the facility to a competitor to put pressure on his workforce over restrictive practices which he told the conference were "bankrupting my company".

"I was surprised at the ferocity of Chris Corrigan's comments to the conference," said Mr. Finney afterwards.

"What I was hearing was 'time is up'." he said. "The shareholders are quite clear. They are not going to go along with this any longer.

"Australia has reached the same point that Britain did when it scrapped its compulsory Dock Labour Scheme. The employers have finally broken cover and said what the reality is."

Britain had a legalised monopoly of wharf labour through the Dock Labour Scheme. In Australia, there has never been any legal impediment to new entrants but no one wanted to move on the effective monopoly of the Maritime Union of Australia, said Mr. Finney.

"Now there are people who are willing to move. Even if the new national Farmers' Federation-backed project in Melbourne fails, then things will never be the same again."

Mr. Finney said it was hard to tell what the game plan was, though he predicted that it would be a very long one. "The key has to be what Patrick does," he said.

Mr. Finney believed Patrick would now eventually exit from the stevedoring industry. "Chris Corrigan has to look after his shareholders. If they are best served by selling, then he will. I can't see the MUA just pulling out in the same way."

But, said Mr. Finney, "so many plays are possible now". When Patrick and P&O Ports were alone as the established duopoly, they felt they had no option but to struggle on as they were, he suggested.

"The key is Patrick. They will not do any deals with the union and P&O Ports will not do any deals if Patrick does not," said Mr. Finney.

He said the experience of the British was that things might now start happening very quickly. "Options do open up," he said.

The "dramatic" difference between Australia and the UK, however, is the legal structure and the presence of the Australian Industrial Arbitration Commission (AIRC), added Mr. Finney.

"The commission's actions will be vital, and will have a big impact on any economic damage caused by the dispute. Will the commission understand the degree to which the situation has changed and the speed with which they have to move to protect the various players?," he said.

Judging by the course of reform in Britain, where could the Australian government and Patrick management still make mistakes and lose their battle?

"They could overplay their hand. The war of words, and allegations and counter-allegations is dangerous," said Mr. Finney. "There could be a general union campaign which drags in the whole country. There seems to be no sign of that yet, with the opposition Labor Party wavering," he said.

Mr. Finney said the union could also open new fronts by taking legally "protected" industrial action during new talks on pay and conditions at Patrick's other Australian facilities which the two sides are due to start next week.

"This comes back to the Commission again. They could do no one any service." However, Mr. Finney said if the AIRC was too slow or bureaucratic, it could play into the hands of workplace relations minister Peter Reith if he wanted to launch a second wave of industrial reforms. In the UK, it was salami tactics which worked. The Australian Council of Trade Unions must be worried.

Mr. Coombs has made two major mistakes already, claimed Mr. Finney.

One was allowing the illegal East Swanson strike this week. The other was stating "in the heat of the moment that if he could not act legally, he would act illegally. This has already come back to haunt him when Peter Reith picked it up" in a later conference speech.

Mr. Finney did not believe the two sides would take a long view of each other and eventually get around to talking after enough legal and political points had been scored.

"When you have the biggest employer saying this is it, we've had enough... why go back? This is about the closed shop. What is there to talk about? No one is saying we understand the game; we'll sit down and talk because the union leadership cannot deliver any changes. The workforce is so entrenched, it cannot contemplate giving any of its privileges up."

The NFF facility in Melbourne is hardly an ideal container operation. "Yes. But that is missing the point. It's that a major stevedore has now blown the whistle. This put shipowners in a different position. They will have no option but to look at a different approach on costs."

Is the effort worth it for Australia? While the union might launch a national strike as a matter of survival, are the gains worth the damage to the economy?

It is partly a political issue, conceded Mr. Finney. "You cannot have access and exit from your country controlled by a monopoly union."

In Britain, said Mr. Finney, employers and exporters "got acclimatised to the fact that something was going to happen. They did not wholly welcome it but they had done a lot of preparations in the two years before the disputes began."

(Source: Lloyd's List)

[ Top of Page ] [ Takver's Soapbox ] [ Site Map ]
Contact Takver with questions or comments about this web page .
Last Modified : 21 February, 1998