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With the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) in the midst of celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Patrick Dispute, another taste of that earlier time is here with a four-day strike called for Qube terminals.
The latest iteration follows a similar effort last month and an intrusion into intermodal operations thwarted in the Fair Work Commission (FWC) last month.
Qube Ports, which includes national stevedore Patrick, has condemned the action at Melbourne’s Webb Dock car terminal as pointless and damaging to shipping lines and customers.
The MUA has been taking industrial action demanding pay rises and changes to working conditions in Melbourne.
It says Qube is attempting to terminate the present enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) and revert to the award, "which would mean a pay cut of at least 40 per cent".
Qube provides labour for the unloading of car imports at the Webb Dock Melbourne International RoRo and Automotive Terminal (MIRRAT) terminal.
It says a number of vehicle-carrying ships will be delayed and several ships will not call Melbourne to avoid the industrial action, according to Qube.
The action will have an impact down the vehicle transport chain.
"We have spent more than two and half years negotiating and had 43 meetings with the MUA," Qube Ports director Michael Sousa says.
"We have moved from having to reduce pay to being able to offer pay rises of close to 10 per cent over the next four years.
"The MUA are demanding the re-introduction of an uneconomic roster which has not been in use since 2014.
"As a result of the on-going dispute, Qube Ports has been forced to seek the termination of the current Enterprise Agreement.
"If Qube’s application is accepted by the Fair Work Commission, we will seek to renegotiate a new enterprise agreement in line with the Award."
Industry organisations have rejected the MUA action.
Shipowner and agents body Shipping Australia (SAL) says it supports Qube Ports’ decision not to give in to the MUA’s "unreasonable demands" and to have applied to have the old EBA set aside.
"Our members label this second strike in three weeks as an unreasonable and a disproportionate response to Qube Ports’ decision," Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn says.
"There has to be a limit to the cost of stevedoring in Australia and the fact that the workers stand to lose up to 59 per cent of their pay if the existing EBA is cancelled and they revert to the Award conditions indicates that they are already on a good wicket.
"This strike will disrupt general stevedoring and up to five roll-on/roll-off ships and ultimately increase the costs of imported vehicles and goods for all Australians.
"Some ships will divert to other ports to avoid the disruption, which will further damage the Victorian economy.
"This looks like another muscle-flexing power-play by the union’s bosses, emboldened by their merger with the CFMEU, in a desperate attempt to cover up their own failure to negotiate."
SAL insists the union’s stance is unrealistic and counterproductive.
"I know that a lot of the workers want to get on with the job, but the union is holding out for a reinstatement of restrictive rosters and more time off," Nairn says.
"These are outdated concepts and just can’t work in an industry with a sporadic work demand.
"The MUA executive don’t seem concerned that their own members and their families are likely to be the biggest losers, they are just pawns in the union bosses’ power-play."
The Patrick Dispute was an industrial showdown between the union and the company that escalated into a political storm in the early years of the John Howard-led federal government.
This article first appeared on www.fullyloaded.com.au
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