STEVEDORES at Qube Ports Newcastle walked off the job for 48 hours from 8am today (August 17), amid a stalemate in negotiations between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and Qube management.
The MUA said workers have had enough, after Qube management refused to give in on the wage reductions during negotiations this week.
MUA Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams told Lloyd’s List Australia that talks with Qube earlier this week failed to reach an acceptable outcome.
The enterprise agreement at Newcastle expired in 2015 and Qube has been in negotiations with the MUA and employees for more than two years to reach a new EA.
Qube had offered a 10.5% reduction in wages across the board in the first year of the EA. A spokesperson for the company told Lloyd’s List Australia that its Newcastle business was currently unviable and the company was seeking a reduction in pay rates as part of ongoing attempts to allow operations to continue.
“The pay offer will bring Qube into line with its main competitor Newcastle Stevedores which has lower pay scales agreed with the MUA a couple of years ago,” the spokesperson said.
“The higher pay structure has meant that Qube Ports has been unable to win business based on price in Newcastle for several years.”
Mr Williams confirmed that Qube had changed its position in meetings on 16 August, offering a wage freeze for three years for permanent employees, cuts of up to 6% for other types of employees, and no wage increases for four years.
“We’ve rejected that offer,” said Mr Williams, adding that the deal could effectively cut wages by more than the original offer of 10.5% for some employees.
There are approximately 30 permanent and part-time positions affected.
“The company is being mismanaged,” he said. “Employees have no confidence in that company and claims that a 10.5% wage cut will result in more work”.
“The other part is that if we don’t accept their position, they’ve made it clear they are intent on terminating our agreement,” said Mr Williams.
The MUA says its strike action will send a message to Qube that its members are united in their position that they want to receive the same conditions as other Qube employees.
But Qube insists that “circumstances affecting the port of Newcastle are unfortunately very different from other Qube ports”.
Mr Williams said, “We hope the company will come back to the table. We asked yesterday if there are any other ways around this, other ways we can look at this… the company doesn’t really have anything else”.
The MUA says members will impose work bans for the next two weeks where workers will place bans on start times, will work only seven-hour shifts with no extensions or overtime.
It further stated that if the company terminates their existing agreement, the Qube workforce has decided not to return to work until a new deal is struck.