Australian Port Workers Hold Extensive Union-Backed Strikes Across October Over Pay Dispute

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
September 27, 2021 Updated: September 27, 2021

Australian port workers will be the latest group to hold nationwide strikes over wage disputes which may affect Christmas deliveries, following previous truck driver and parcel delivery worker strikes.

Container terminal operator Patrick Terminals and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) have been holding extensive negotiations over wages since Feb. 2020.

However, discussions boiled over after workers rejected Patrick’s latest offer of a 2.5 percent year-on-year wage increase for four years.

Patrick was notified that hundreds of its wharf workers would go on strike for 24 hours in Port Botany, Sydney, next weekend.

While in Melbourne, there will be 12 hours strikes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the entire month of October.

Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic called MUA’s actions “bewildering,” and the industrial action demonstrated no regard to the suffering of everyday Australians who have been impacted by lockdowns, restrictions, and job losses.

“We have bargained with the MUA for over 19 months and provided a very generous pay increase, guaranteed no redundancies, and provided a commitment to preserving jobs,” Jovicic said in a statement. “They clearly have no intention of reaching a deal. They just want to cause maximum damage to the company and the economy.”

Over 40 percent of all container freight in Australia goes through Patrick Terminals, and they said the impact of the strike would have ramifications for all Australians.

Peak industry body Shipping Australia said the union-led disruption would adversely affect everyday Australians given the importance of freight, shipping, and ports.

They estimated that the industrial action could potentially cost over U.S.$101,000 a day (AU$138,900), not including fuel.

“Clearly, this is a crisis for Australia’s economy, which relies on ocean shipping for over 99 percent of all of its freight,” Shipping Australia CEO Melwyn Noronha said.

“Shipping Australia calls upon the union to exercise restraint during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also call upon the Federal Government to include a review of waterfront industrial relations.”

MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn told The Epoch Times in a statement that Patrick was claiming loss of market share despite recording profits by price gouging through terminal access charges and other shipping fees.

“Productivity is at a high, and Protected Industrial Action is a last resort to finalise an agreement that is almost 18 months past expiry,” Newlyn said. “Patrick employees are rightly frustrated at corporate tactics to deny a modest pay rise and remove agreed conditions on secure jobs.”

Newlyn said negotiations broke down because Patricks insisted on changes the workforce could not accept, including increased casualisation that threatened job security.

“Had the CEO not intervened in the Port Botany bargaining, an agreement would have been reached locally,” Newlyn said.

Rebecca Zhu