Australian Stevedore Applies to Stop ‘Unrelenting Barrage’ of Strikes on Ports

By Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is an Australian reporter based in Sydney. She focuses on the Australian economy, property, and education. Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.
November 9, 2021 Updated: November 9, 2021

Container terminal operator Patrick Terminals has lodged its application to the Fair Work Commission in a bid to stop the ongoing industrial actions occurring in four of its ports.

Patrick, which handles around 40 percent of the nation’s container freight at its Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, and Perth ports, applied to terminate Maritime Union of Australia’s (MUA) ongoing industrial action on the grounds of threatening to cause significant damage to the Australian economy.

“Since May, our terminals have faced an unrelenting barrage of ongoing industrial action by the MUA that has impacted all terminal users including importers, exporters and shipping lines,” Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said on Nov. 8. “Delays are escalating, and we have continually pleaded with the MUA to negotiate without the need for damaging industrial action.”

The stevedore has unsuccessfully negotiated with the MUA over 70 meetings since February 2020. MUA launched over 220 industrial actions in all four ports during the negotiation period, according to Patrick.

Port workers had planned to hold 12 hours strikes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the entire month of October in the Melbourne port alone. They were later halted after 2 cases of COVID-19 were detected, putting hundreds of workers in isolation and straining operations.

“The past two years have been particularly challenging for all parties across the supply chain, and the industrial action is impacting Australia’s COVID economic recovery,” Jovicic said.

”For the sake of our economy, we need to get our supply chains working efficiently again, and the ongoing industrial action is definitely not in the best interests of Australia’s recovery.”

Under 424 of the Fair Work Act, protected industrial action can be terminated if it is judged to have “threatened, is threatening, or would threaten to cause significant damage to the Australian economy.”

Epoch Times Photo
Workers load containers on a cargo ship at Port Botany in Sydney, Australia, on Dec. 2, 2020. (Saeed Khan/AFP via Getty Images)

The MUA said Patrick Terminals were acting “with belligerence and bad faith” in the courts rather than negotiating with the workforce.

“By the admission of Patrick’s parent company in its recent annual report, business is booming,” MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn said. “Volumes are up, profits are up, and executive bonuses are flowing. This is not a business or an industry in distress.”

Meanwhile, the Australian Farmers Federation CEO Tony Mahar wrote in The Australian Financial Review that international freight supply chains were jeopardising the country’s economic recovery.

However, he said that the dispute between Patrick and MUA was “merely a sliver of the broader problems plaguing the supply chain.”

Mahar accused the freight supply chains of “working against Australia’s national interest” but also criticised the unions for “making exorbitant wage and working condition demands and holding freight end-users to ransom if they do not get their way.”

The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry CEO Andrew McKellar said the MUA’s industrial action wasn’t about the money since workers were already paid on average $172,000 (US$127,000) a year for just 200 days of work.

“The reality is that the MUA is opportunistically ramping up pressure to maintain their grip over port operations, recruiting their family and friends, while they trash any measures for a more flexible and responsive workforce,” McKellar said.

Rebecca Zhu
Rebecca Zhu is an Australian reporter based in Sydney. She focuses on the Australian economy, property, and education. Contact her at rebecca.zhu@epochtimes.com.au.