A union-led strike at the Port of Melbourne has been halted after two cases of COVID-19 forced over 100 workers into isolation, heavily impacting operations.
Two employees at container terminal operator Patrick Terminals have tested positive for COVID-19, forcing 109 workers into a 14-day self-isolation period just as Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) began its series of strikes.
MUA planned to hold 12-hour strikes every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday for the entire month of October after negotiations with Patrick Terminals over wages broke down.
On Wednesday morning, Patrick Terminals CEO Michael Jovicic urged MUA to withdraw their industrial action to allow operations to recover during this “critical situation.”
“Currently, 32 percent of our Melbourne workforce are unavailable to attend work and will need to isolate for a 14-day period,” Jovicic said. “This is not a time to be holding our Melbourne terminal to ransom when so many importers and exporters are relying on our services for the movement of their cargo.”
In response, the MUA has agreed to stop its industrial action at Port of Melbourne temporarily.
“In an act of good faith, the MUA and its members have lifted industrial action at the Port of Melbourne until further notice because of the reduced numbers of workers available as a result of some workers being placed into quarantine,” MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn told The Epoch Times in a statement.
But the union is again calling on Patrick’s to return to the negotiating table and resolve the wage dispute so everyone can get back to work.
“While the MUA recognises the need to lift its action to maintain operation of the port because of the impact of COVID, the union has twice called on Patrick to come back to the bargaining table to discuss enterprise agreement issues which remain unresolved,” Newlyn said.
The first COVID-19 case at Port of Melbourne was found on Friday, which forced 22 close contacts into isolation. A second positive case was found on Tuesday, forcing a further 87 close contacts into isolation.
Patrick expects delays to exponentially increase at its Melbourne terminal, where vessels are already berthing up to four days behind schedule. It also has no capacity for subcontracting for at least the next week.
Meanwhile, farmers in Western Australia are upset that the MUA-led port strikes in Perth have delayed the delivery of critical machinery needed to harvest an anticipated record season of crops.
“We’re the collateral damage in this,” Pastoralists and Graziers Association President Tony Seabrook told the ABC. “There’s been no consideration whatsoever of the impact of what their actions will have in a year when we have a record crop to come off, and these machines are desperately needed.”
The MUA strikes continue in other cities across Australia, including Sydney, Brisbane, and Perth.