THE Maritime Union of Australia announced its members would stop work for 24 hours at Fremantle’s Inner Harbour starting Friday at 1000. The union said the strike is in response to the “heavy-handed” actions of Fremantle ports, which it says has been standing down workers at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal for five hours a day.
The strike will prevent vessels from berthing and unberthing at the entirety of the Fremantle Inner Harbour. This includes the Patrick and DP World Australia container terminals.
Striking port workers are planning a protest, along with supporters, outside the office of Fremantle Ports to demand the state government trading enterprise engage in “genuine bargaining to resolve the growing industrial dispute”, according to the MUA.
A Fremantle Ports spokesperson confirmed to DCN that the strike at Fremantle’s Inner Harbour would go ahead.
“Fremantle Ports has been in good-faith negotiations with the MUA for 18 months, but unfortunately limited progress has been made. Fremantle Ports’ offer enhances the current enterprise agreement,” the spokesperson said.
“Our goal is to reach an agreement and at the same time ensure Fremantle Ports can continue to run the port effectively for our customers and facilitate trade in the best interests of the WA economy.”
Fremantle Ports has stood down employees at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal while they were engaging in the protected industrial action.
The Fremantle Ports spokesperson told DCN the stand-down was a direct consequence of the targeted industrial action instituted by the MUA.
“As a result of the industrial action, employees had no useful work to undertake and were therefore stood down. The union challenged the right of the port to implement the stand-down in the Fair Work Commission and sought payment for the periods of time employees were not working. The port did not accept this position,” the spokesperson said.
“The MUA discontinued their claim for payments during the stand-down period on 16 June, by filing a notice of discontinuance at the Fair Work Commission.”
MUA WA assistant branch secretary Jeff Cassar said the stoppage and protest were aimed to bring the dispute to a head, rather than allow the stand-downs to continue to cause financial hardship for workers and customers of Fremantle Ports.
“Workers at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal have been suffering serious financial hardship due to Fremantle Ports’ decision to stand down all workers any time a workgroup undertakes lawful industrial action, essentially shutting the terminal for five hours a day,” Mr Cassar said.
“Workers were simply exercising their legal rights as part of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement that reflects industry standards, yet Fremantle Ports response has been aggressive, heavy-handed, and threatens to cause significant port delays.”
Mr Cassar said Fremantle Ports’ stand-down policy and the attendant shipping delays were causing its customers to pay thousands in demurrage costs.
“MUA members had restricted their lawful industrial action to staggered one-hour stoppages at the Kwinana Bulk Terminal, but Fremantle Ports decided to take those limited actions and massively escalate them, forcing their clients to bankroll their aggressive industrial agenda,” he said.
“In light of that provocation, we were left with no choice but to expand our campaign to the Inner Harbour in an attempt to bring this dispute to a head so we can finally achieve a fair resolution.”
The MUA has also accused Fremantle Ports of underpaying 100 of its workers more than $3.5 million over the past six years. The union commissioned a “forensic audit”, which it said confirmed the underpayment.
The Fremantle Ports spokesperson told DCN the union put forward an underpayment claim at the Federal Court on 25 June 2020 and that matter is still before the court, which is awaiting the union’s statement of claim.
“The Federal Court will determine whether any underpayment occurred,” the spokesperson said.
This article has been updated to include comment from Fremantle Ports.