Stevedores in Australia Threaten 24-hour Strikes Over Cancelled Holidays

January 22: The maritime union is threatening rolling 24-hour strikes across four states at Australia’s biggest port operator, DP World, after the company cut short the annual leave of some employees to fill shortages and maintain its ­operations.

In an escalation of a long-­running enterprise bargaining dispute, the union is threatening to launch Federal Court action over the company’s decision to “unlawfully” cancel the summer holidays of several wharfies [stevedores] in Sydney and Fremantle.

Maritime Union of Australia assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the union members would escalate the one-hour-a-shift stoppages currently occurring in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle.

“They are doing one-hour stoppages in every terminal across the country now,” he said.

“We are likely to extend that to two hours, subject to the endorsement of the labour. Each of the branches are also considering further stoppages … including 24-hour stoppages.”

He said Brisbane wharfies on Monday had backed 24-hour stoppages, reflecting anger at DP World’s conduct, including cancellation of leave and the refusal of the company to backpay workers who refused to work during the Sydney bushfire smoke haze.

DP World chief operating officer Andrew Adam accused Mr Smith of misrepresenting the company’s conduct to distract from the union’s “mismanagement” of the enterprise agreement negotiations.

He said eight of 150 employees had been called back from leave. “Despite what the MUA is saying, there is no wholesale cancellation of employees’ annual leave across the board.

“We have got some specific key shortages in some specialist roles and, in order to run our operations and service all of our customers, we need to make adjustments to that leave plan.

“That’s adjustments we make from time to time right throughout the year so that’s what we are doing at the moment.”

He said three employees in Fremantle and up to five in Sydney had been called back to work early.

Industrial action during the dispute had cost employees about $6000 each and the union’s claim about leave was designed to distract from its handling of the dispute, he said. “We had agreement with the workplace representatives (on the enterprise agreement) in Oct­ober and the union has subsequently blocked that agreement and given us complete new claims after 10 months of negotiation,” he said.

“Despite meetings being scheduled … with all local representatives in the bargaining at four of our terminals, the union decided to initiate and embark on another round of protected industrial action.

“That’s causing concerns amongst its membership in our terminals … therefore the union is throwing up a number of issues to distract itself from the mismanagement of the enterprise agreement and to focus on things like leave, which has affected less than 1 per cent of our workforce.”

While the union was protesting about the cancellation of leave, it had embarked on industrial action in January that had contributed to the shortages faced by DP World, he said.

Mr Adam said the existing one-hour bans had applied to different shifts and the company had needed to “rebalance the workload” but did not intend to stand down workers in response.

Mr Smith said workers were “outraged by the unlawful attacks”, saying the aggressive escalation was aimed at bullying workers into accepting management’s demands.

“This ‘take it or leave it’ stuff might work for DP World elsewhere in their global operations, but wharfies will fight hard to ­defend against the threats and ­intimidation of this multinational stevedore,” he said.

Source: The Australian / Ewin Hannan

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