Wharfies to be swindled?

Picture: Maritime Union of Australia calls for support

1400 wharfies sacked in midnight raids

Just before midnight last night (Tuesday) Patricks moved extra security guards and security dogs onto their wharves in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle. The ABC announced at 11.47pm on its website that "Federal Government says Patrick Stevedores has sacked its workforce, and will replace current waterside workers with new contractors." Patrick issued a media release shortly after 11pm which stated that it had decided to contract out its stevedoring activities due to the "continued failure of the Maritime Union of Australia to negotiate acceptable work practices". This action was brought forward as the MUA had started urgent court proceedings for an injunction to prevent Patrick from sacking its workforce.

1400 workers at Patricks 17 terminals around Australia have been locked out and given the sack. This was done with the full collusion of the government. Peter Reith, the Minister for Industrial Warfare has promised "a line of credit up to $250 million is available" for Patrick to use for termination payments. Patricks has announced that most of its operations will be outsourced. The NFF backed anti-union operation, P&C Stevedores will be a primary source of contract labour for Patricks.

The Government aid to Patrick is in stark contrast to the treatment of miners at Cobar and Woodlawn who the government refused to help when they were made redundant and denied their employee entitlements, while the banks got paid.

Union Response to outrageous sackings

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says it is not considering violent confrontation on the waterfront, despite Patrick Stevedores' action. The union's assistant national secretary, Mr Vic Slater, said the "outrageous action" proved the union's long-held belief that there was a conspiracy between Patrick, the Federal Government and the National Farmers Federation to destroy the union. "This company has broken every rule in the industrial relations book and in doing so is jeopardising the livelihood of thousands of workers and their families at the behest of the Government."


At East Swanson Dock in Melbourne 27 wharfies are locked inside despite attempts by security guards to remove them. "We can't get out. They've secured the whole place," one worker told The Age by telephone. "The boys aren't happy. It's like World War Three down here." Terry Russell from the MUA is adament they will remain inside the dockyard unless they are forcibly removed. At least one wharfie had been injured in the attempt to secure the dock. "There's dogs running around everywhere with people. One of our members has been bitten by a dog and he's in a serious way - this is an absolute disgrace." MUA organiser Mick Cottrell said.

10am - Construction workers have walked off construction sites in Melbourne in protest at the sackings.


The union says up to 50 security guards with dogs, backed by about a dozen police, removed union members from Patrick's Fisherman Island container terminal in Brisbane. Col Davies from the South Queensland branch of the MUA has complained to police about an alleged savage assault on one union member by security guards man-handling him off the site. Union officials were allowed on site, escorted by police, to check on the safety of union members. Mr Davies said "It's time for people to rally together and realise that both this State Government and the Federal Government must only be one-term Governments for the good of everyone in Australia. It's a real fascist exercise what's going on here tonight, a really fascist, undemocratic, un-Australian exercise."


In the Western Australian Port of Fremantle, 50 Patricks' workers spent two-and-a-half hours locked in an amenities building after security guards took control of the premises. After requests from police, the workers left peacefully and are maintaining a vigil outside the terminal's main gates. Tony Papaconstantinos for the MUA says the union will not tolerate militant actions of Patrick Stevedores.


10am Wednesday - 4000 unionists are rallying in Sydney and will march to Darling Harbour to join picketing Maritime Union members outside Patrick's No 5 darling harbour terminal. The rally includes members from the Construction Forestry Mining Engineering Union (CFMEU) , Teachers Federation and Nurses Union.

ACTU response

The ACTU has condemned the sacking as a gross act of collusion between Patrick, the Government, and the National Farmers Federation. The ACTU is meeting today to draw up a considered response from the trade union movement.

International Transport Workers Federation

In a swift reaction the ITF general secretary David Cockroft has condemned the sackings as outrageous. He stated that the federation will be contacting all its affiliates to urge them to take what action they can against Patrick. Patrick's decision to use non union contract labour in its Australian operations makes the company a direct target and ships and shipowners using the firm could also suffer. "We don't believe that those new jobs will have any long-term future." Speaking out against the contracting out to non union labour "Our unions around the world are not going to stand by and watch that happen because it's quite clear that if it can happen in Australia, it can happen anywhere. So, Patrick is a target and any company that uses Patrick's facilities is potentially a target as far as the ITF is concerned."

Labor Party accuses Government of conspiracy

In federal parliament the Federal Labor Opposition Leader, Kim Beazley, has condemned the sackings as illegal, and accused the government of a conspiracy against the Maritime Union.

Minister for Industrial Warfare, Peter Reith commented earlier that "This is a decisive turning point in the history of reform on the Australian waterfront and gives Australia the opportunity to have a waterfront which will allow us to compete against the best in the world."

Reith has outlined this morning that the financial assistance to Patrick will be met by long term levies - $12 on every container shipped and $6 on every car shipped.

(Source: ABC April 8, Sydney Morning Herald April 8, The Age April 8, ABC Radio reports April 8)

If you wish to contact Patrick Management to tell them what you think of these sackings, contact details are available from their webpage at http://www.patrick.com.au/

Are wharfies about to be swindled out of millions?

The Financial Review reported that in a series of transactions last year -- around the time when Patrick's chairman, Chris Corrigan, was negotiating with backers of the Dubai stevedoring training venture -- a total of $68.1m was shifted upstream to companies in the group not employing wharfies.

Documents lodged with the Australian Securities Commission show that the three companies in the group which employ dock workers carried out a series of share buybacks in September.

John Coombs, the national secretary of the MUA, said "Given this company's approach to industrial relations, its involvement in Dubai and its statement that the company would be worth more without its current workers, I really have serious concerns. I suspect it's going to make it more difficult for us, if they liquidate the companies or close them down, to ensure we get the accrued entitlements for our members. Those entitlements would run into millions."

A spokesman for Patrick said last year's internal restructuring had "absolutely nothing to do with the current industrial strategies. Associated with the reorganisation last year, there were a number of transactions, all undertaken at fair market value, which made the new corporate structure appropriately capitalised."
(Australian Financial Review March 27)

P&C Stevedores disqualify applicants who refuse to cross pickets

The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) says it has obtained CES documents proving P and C Stevedores would disqualify applicants if they refused to cross union picket lines. The ACTU has also confirmed that former Dubai trainees, now employed with P and C are still on the payroll of Fynwest, the recruiting company for the Dubai exercise.

Greg Combet, an ACTU assistant secretary, said "We want to bring it to the attention of the community and we'd like the questions to be answered. And most particularly: what's the relationship between the NFF operation at Webb Dock and the Dubai fiasco and who's paying the money for these things?"

Donald McGauchie, the Chairman of P and C Stevedores, has dismissed the ACTU's claims, calling them "desperate". He said that it is a condition of employment with P and C that recruits must have severed any ties with former employers.
(ABC - March 24)

Australia in breach of International Convention

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) says Australia's Workplace Relations Act is in breach of international conventions and should be amended. It is particularly critical of the Act promoting individual contracts over collective bargaining. Peter Reith in his usual foaming arrogance has rejected the decision and says the Government will not review its industrial relations laws as a result of a finding by the International Labour Organisation (ILO).

(ABC - March 11)

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