Militant managers at Svitzer Tugs determined to trash waterfront labour negotiations

Maritime Union of Australia

Three unions representing maritime workers employed by Svitzer Towage have written to company managers inviting them to return to the negotiating table to avoid litigation next week in the Fair Work Commission, but the company – a local subsidiary of one of the world’s largest maritime conglomerates, AP Moller Maersk – has set a course towards industry disruption and uncertainty by seeking to cancel its Employment Agreement with tugboat workers at every Australian mainland port.

Svitzer Towage operates 24/7 with the cooperation and contribution of maritime workers represented by the MUA, the Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers (AIMPE) and the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU).

The global company’s local management has refused to negotiate a new employment agreement with the three unions after the expiration of the Svitzer National Towage Agreement 2016 in December 2019. While theoretically employers and unions should negotiate a replacement agreement before the expiration of an old one, Svitzer Australia has engaged in almost three years of managerial militancy by refusing to negotiate, lodging a laundry list of unreasonable demands, and threatening to slash the pay of its seagoing workforce by almost 50%.

Svitzer’s lawyers plan to front the Fair Work Commission with an application to terminate the 2016 agreement and return their workforce to the Award. Svitzer’s desired course of action would devastate workers by slashing their pay, cause massive fatigue risks and undermine Svitzer’s capacity to provide reliable and efficient towage services to its clients, namely international shipping companies and various port authorities.

“Svitzer’s militant brinksmanship threatens to throw the smooth and efficient operation of almost every Australian seaport into complete chaos,” said the MUA’s National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin. “We are confident that the Fair Work Commission will look at the reckless and belligerent behaviour of Svitzer throughout this process and respond to the company’s court action appropriately,” Mr Crumlin added.

The Marine Towage Award, which workers would fall back to without an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement in force, would slash pay and conditions that have been negotiated in exchange for flexible work and overtime. Returning to the Award would force tugboat workers to perform massive volumes of overtime to recoup their normal levels of take-home pay, leading to dangerous levels of fatigue and stress and the obliteration of any semblance of a work-life-balance.

“The employment agreement which Svitzer’s managers are asking the Fair Work Commission to terminate is the instrument that delivers efficient, modern working arrangements – and wages – for tugboat workers upon which Australia’s entire supply chain depends. Slashing our members’ pay by up to 50% will destroy the livelihoods of these workers” Australian Maritime Officers’ Union Executive Officer, Mark Davis said.

Members of each of the three maritime unions will be invited to join a national briefing tomorrow (Friday 5 August) via Zoom with ACTU Secretary, Sally McManus.

“With efforts to negotiate in good faith being ignored by management, we are forced to take time off work this week to consider our options and decide democratically on a way forward,” said Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers President, Martin Byrne. “Our members are skilled, experienced and devoted to their profession, but they are being treated with contempt by a management team that seem determined to sink the company,” Mr Byrne added.

Paddy Crumlin, who is also the International Transport Workers Federation President, reiterated his call for AP Moller Maersk’s global leadership to intervene in a situation that is now completely out of the control of local managers.

“These local executives are in over their heads and are leading the Australian subsidiary down a path to ruin with their short sighted and pigheaded attitude. AP Moller Maersk needs to pull them in to line and remind them of the company values which its shareholders expect them to uphold, including respect for workers and their right to collective bargaining,” Mr Crumlin said.

/Public Release.