INDUSTRIAL action at key container terminals is set to end despite a conciliation hearing in the Fair Work Commission failing to end the impasse between Patrick Terminals and the Maritime Union.
Instead, a further two-day hearing before the FWC has been scheduled starting 26 October.
During the hearing this week, the union rejected a company offer of 1.5% pay increases for each year for four years without changes to current rosters and conditions.
The MUA said the Patrick offer meant accepting pay rises a full 1% a year below those being provided by other stevedores, including Patrick’s co-owner Qube Logistics.
Patrick also offered to hire 50 new workers at Port Botany to help clear a container backlog and stated that it offered job guarantees with no forced redundancies for the life of the agreement.
The opposing sides have offered varying interpretations of events, with Patricks referring to an MUA “backdown” and the union accusing the company of collapsing a peace deal by rejecting a fair offer.
Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said he was pleased damaging actions had been called off but maintained the union had inflicted unnecessary supply chain pain.
“Having lost in the court of public opinion they decided to retreat to fight another day,” he said.
“At least now we can get on with clearing the backlog which exceeds more than 100,000 containers around Australia. Hopefully this means we will avoid shortages of goods at Christmas time.”
MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said he was dismayed by the Patrick Terminals’ rejection of “a reasonable and fair peace deal”.
“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.”
Mr Crumlin said the union would not accept a profitable company using the COVID crisis to strip away job security.
“Resolving this dispute requires compromise from both sides,” he said.
“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.”
Mr Crumlin said the union would vigorously defend the company’s “baseless” Fair Work application.
“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,” he said. Mr Crumlin accused the company of using the dispute as cover to hike landside fees from their customers.