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THE Maritime Union of Australia’s protracted industrial action against Qube Ports at the Port of Fremantle is beginning to risk damaging the Western Australian economy, according to some, and calls for the Fair Work Commission to intervene are growing.

It has been reported that the industrial action at Qube Ports at Fremantle caused seven ships over 10 days to divert to Melbourne and Adelaide. It has also been reported in the mainstream media that WA minister for ports Rita Saffioti did not attend a Fair Work Commission hearing on the impact of the strike after the state government urged the commission to intervene in the industrial action.

The union acknowledged the dispute is risking the WA economy, but said it was down to Qube’s “refusal” to negotiate an outcome to the dispute.

MUA WA branch secretary Will Tracey said all disputes eventually end but the timing of the conclusion of this industrial action was in the hands of Qube executives and its board.

“Our members and the MUA are willing to talk about how to resolve the dispute but after months of lost workdays, Qube appears determined to stick to its hard-line industrial relations agenda by refusing to negotiate,” Mr Tracey said.

“By its failure to even talk about finding a way forward, Qube is prolonging the dispute and risks further impact on WA. Our members deserve improved fatigue management practices and occupational health and safety on the job and a proper work-life balance.”

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Australian Resources and Energy Group AMMA has called on the WA government to act to end the strike at Fremantle Port.

AMMA chief executive Steve Knott said the state has a clear pathway to apply to the Fair Work Commission to cease the industrial action on grounds of serious economic damage.

“Qube has been in negotiation with the MUA since December 2019 to try and land a reasonable outcome,” he said.

“The agreement offers a 10% pay increase over four years, to which Qube port workers in every other part of the country have accepted.”

Mr Knott said the WA maritime union bosses are refusing to budge.

“The union is also using international avenues to pressure Qube’s customers to avoid Fremantle and cause further economic damage not only to the company but to the state of Western Australia,” he said.

“Western Australia’s farmers and mining service suppliers are suffering serious commercial damage due to this protracted strike. The State needs to send a message that it will not allow its most important port to be held to ransom.”

AMMA said understands the FWC declined to stop the strike at a hearing on Tuesday, with the state government’s failure to provide evidence or even turn up contributing to that decision.

Should Western Australia make an application and provide the evidence required to stop the strike, it would clear the path for the FWC to arbitrate the bargaining dispute.

“It was ridiculous for the FWC to propose the parties engage further in conciliation before Deputy President Binet. There is not a slither of hope this would resolve the dispute,” Mr Knott said.

“AMMA’s view is the matter must be arbitrated by a Full Bench of the Fair Work Commission. Qube has agreed to allow the FWC to independently arbitrate the dispute. If the MUA truly believes it’s claims are reasonable, it should agree to engage in this process. It is in nobody’s interest for this dispute to carry on any longer.”

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