A marathon two-day conciliation hearing before the Fair Work Commission has failed to resolve the current waterfront dispute after container terminal operator Patrick rejected the Maritime Union of Australia’s formal peace offer.
In an updated offer to the company this morning, the union offered to extend the rollover period of the existing workplace agreement to two years — provided an extended period of industrial certainty — along with industry-standard 2.5 per cent a year pay rises.
The deal collapsed after the company insisted workers choose between substantially lower pay rises, or changes to the existing agreement that would allow the massive casualisation of the workforce, stripping away job security in the midst of the COVID crisis.
Patrick said it would only accept the union’s rollover proposal — which would have maintained the status quo in relation to workplace rights and conditions — if workers agreed to accept pay rises a full 1 per cent a year below those being provided by other stevedores, including Patrick’s co-owner Qube Logistics.
The FWC hearing into Patrick’s attempt to stop workers from exercising their legal right to undertake protected industrial action has been adjourned, and will take place over two days from October 26.
The union will this afternoon write to the company voluntarily withdrawing all planned industrial action ahead of that hearing.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was dismayed by the company’s rejection of a reasonable and fair peace deal that would have brought this dispute to an immediate end in the public interest.
“Our formal offer to the Fair Work Commission had no strings attached, it would simply have seen the existing workplace agreement that Patrick previously negotiated continue, resolving the current dispute and allowing a process of genuine negotiation to commence,” Mr Crumlin said.
“The company rejected that offer, even when we offered to extend it for two years, instead insisting that workers either accept a massive increase to the use of casual, rather than permanent workers, or pay rises well below the industry standard.
“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 whafies, replacing quality jobs with precarious casual employment.
“Resolving this dispute requires compromise from both sides. The union did that with our offer of a genuine peace deal, yet Patrick is instead forcing workers to choose between sacrificing their job security or losing money.
“Despite these provocations from the company, and the failure to reach agreement, the union has agreed to halt all forms of industrial action until the FWC hearing into Patrick’s attempt to terminate legally-protected industrial action can take place later this month.”
Mr Crumlin said the union would be vigorously defending the company’s baseless application.
“Patrick’s dishonesty has been exposed in the media this week, and we believe their legal claims are equally flawed,” Mr Crumlin said.
“On Monday, the public was told there were 40 container ships sitting off the NSW coast waiting to unload, but by Tuesday it was clear there were only one or two sitting off Port Botany, which is a normal situation.
“On Monday, the public was told medical supplies were being held up, yet by Wednesday the CEO of Patrick was forced to admit he wasn’t aware of a single medical container that was delayed.
“In the same way, this hearing will expose the company’s outrageous claims that limited, legal industrial action was causing massive delays for farmers, importers, and consumers for the fraud they are.
“It will also expose the fact that Patrick has been using this dispute as cover to implement massive increases to landside fees, blaming the union for what is clearly a management move to gouge more money out of their customers.
“What we have seen today is Patrick management continue to use the cover of COVID and the community anxiety that comes with it to attack the conditions of their workforce, gouge profit, and misrepresent their true intentions.”