The wharfies union has pledged to immediately withdraw industrial action at ports around the country for at least a month despite not reaching a deal on pay.
Following a marathon two-day conciliation with Patrick stevedores, the Maritime Union of Australia on Thursday committed to withdrawing its overtime bans and planned stoppages at terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle.
The ceasefire will provide relief for vital supplies that have faced up to three weeks of delays, although Patrick has cautioned it will still take two to three months to return to normal services.
The company is also yet to reach a new enterprise agreement with the union and so runs the risk that industrial action could restart in November.
Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said he was “amazed” the MUA had refused the company’s offer of a 1.5 per cent pay increase every year for four years with no changes to conditions.
The company had also offered to hire 50 new workers at Port Botany to help clear the container backlog and promised guarantees of no forced redundancies.
However, MUA Sydney assistant secretary Paul Garrett said: “We’re not in the business of trading off wages for security of employment.”
MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin, who had offered a two-year rollover of the existing agreement with 2.5 per cent annual pay increases, accused Patrick of offering wage increases lower than other stevedores.
‘Compromise from both sides’
He said the company’s alternative was a huge increase in casuals.
“Resolving this dispute requires compromise from both sides,” he said.
“We will not accept a highly profitable company using the cover of the COVID crisis to strip away the job security of productive, hard-working wharfies, replacing quality jobs with precarious casual employment.”
He said the union would withdraw its industrial action until a Fair Work Commission hearing into Patrick’s application to terminate all action on October 26, which the union has promised to “vigorously” defend.
Mr Jovicic said the union had inflicted unnecessary pain across the supply chain and had now walked away with nothing.
“Having lost in the court of public opinion, they decided to retreat to fight another day.”
Pharmaceutical wholesaler Arrotex said this week the port crisis had led to its overseas manufacturers refusing 10 orders for much-needed drugs because of uncertainty over delivery and payment.
Critical shortage of drugs
Mr Jovicic said a freight forwarder had contacted the stevedore on Wednesday, seeking assistance in unloading essential diabetes medication that had been held up by three weeks because of the port crisis.
“They advise there is now a critical shortage of these drugs,” he said.
The company had located the container and would unload it on Thursday night.
Three shipping lines, including Cosco’s OOCL, have also temporarily stopped taking new bookings for Sydney because of delays to almost 100,000 containers, and others have reduced the volumes they take on.
Shipping Australia CEO Rod Nairn said that even with a ceasefire, business and consumers would now “feel the pinch of waterfront industrial action as international shipping lines stop loading imports destined for Australia”.
“Very soon, every Australian will feel the impacts when they can’t get their usual supplies from their shops.”
The union’s push for pay increases of 2.5 per cent came as 400,000 NSW public servants were forced to accept a pay rise of just 0.3 per cent this year.
The NSW Industrial Relations Commission said the pay rise was warranted because COVID-19 had disrupted the economy “on a scale not seen since the Second World War”.
The NSW government had argued for a wage freeze, claiming it would add $3 billion to fund infrastructure projects and help the economic recovery.
However, UnionsNSW said the decision would “deprive the state’s outer suburbs and regions of the economic lifeblood they so desperately need”.
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