THE Maritime Union of Australia has issued 40 notices of industrial action for Patrick’s Melbourne terminal. They include 12 hours of work stoppages every Monday, Wednesday and Friday throughout October (except Friday 1 October).

In a media release, Patrick said the union was launching an “aggressive round of nationwide strikes during the peak pre-Christmas freight period”.

Patrick said in a notice to customers that the Melbourne terminal would be impacted by significant delays due to the industrial action. Patrick said it is attempting to support other stevedores with restricted operations due to COVID-19 outbreaks. Last week Victoria International Container Terminal shut down twice after cases of COVID-19 were detected in the workforce.

The union has also announced work stoppages at Port Botany. Union workers will down-tools for a total of 48 hours over Saturday and Sunday 2 and 3 October. Patrick said these stoppages would extend delays at the terminal to up to two days.

At Fremantle, the union undertook a similar work-stoppage this past weekend, commencing at 2300 on Friday 24 September. Also at Fremantle, the union issued a ban on the performance of work on the vessel Swan River Bridge on Saturday and Sunday 18 and 19 September. This followed a 24-hour work stoppage on Friday 10 September at the WA port.

A major industrial campaign

Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said the MUA is clearly embarking on a “major pre-Christmas industrial campaign”.

“For more than a year, we have been dealing with overtime and other bans at ports around the country. Last week they announced strike action at Port Botany commencing next Friday,” he said.

“Then late on Friday, the MUA hit Patrick with forty notices of industrial action in Melbourne in addition to industrial action and stoppages at our other terminals in Sydney, Fremantle and Brisbane. This means there will be continuous rolling industrial action in Patrick Terminal’s Melbourne container terminal with strikes every Monday, Wednesday and Friday of October and impacts across all other days of the month.”

Mr Jovicic said the union’s actions are “bewildering”.

“It seems to have completely lost the plot. This blatantly aggressive strike action demonstrates that it has no regard for the suffering of everyday Australians who have felt the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, job losses and restrictions over the past 18 months,” Mr Jovicic said.

“It seems that the union is trying to starve the Melbourne public of Christmas presents after all that Victorians have gone through over the past 18 months – it is truly mind-boggling.”

Mr Jovicic said Patrick had been bargaining with the MUA for more than 19 months and has provided a “very generous” pay increase, guaranteed no redundancies and provided a commitment to preserving jobs.

“They clearly have no intention of reaching a deal. They just want to cause maximum damage to the company and the economy,” Mr Jovicic said.

“Over 40% of all container freight in Australia comes through Patrick terminals and the impact of this selfish industrial action will have ramifications for all Australians.”

The union view

MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn called Mr Jovicic the Patrick “chief exaggeration officer” and said the CEO was applying “corporate spin” to the situation.

“Patrick claim they wanted a roll-over but have insisted on changes that their workforce will not accept,” he said.

“Despite claiming a loss of market share, Patrick are recording record profits by price gouging through terminal access charges and other shipping fees which are adding to the cost of goods for customers and Australian consumers.”

Mr Newlyn said “productivity is at a high” and protected industrial action is a last resort.

“Patrick employees are rightly frustrated at corporate tactics to deny a modest pay rise and remove agreed conditions on secure jobs,” Mr Newlyn said.

Average salaries for full-time employees on a 35-hour roster at Patrick’s terminals range from $151,000 to $172,000, inclusive of bonuses and overtime.

Patrick has offered 2.5% year-on-year pay increases for four years, a guarantee of no forced redundancies, a commitment to preserving jobs and caps on casual labour.

In July, the MUA concluded rancorous and protracted enterprise agreement negotiations with Hutchison Ports Australia for workers at the company’s Sydney and Brisbane terminals. The agreement includes provisions that up to 70% of new hires would be sourced from employees’ “family and friends” or a union-approved list.