THE International Transport Workers’ Federation said Svitzer’s application to terminate its current enterprise bargaining agreement is a departure from parent company Maersk’s “generally constructive approach towards transport workers and their rights”.

Two weeks ago, Svitzer applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate its enterprise agreement after two years of negotiations with Australia’s three maritime unions. The company said the current agreement, which lapsed in 2019, has led to inefficiencies and limitations on workplace productivity.

ITF general secretary Stephen Cotton said unions and companies had been working together throughout the pandemic to keep supply chains moving and resolve issues with crew changes.

“Our message is that mature, respectful industrial relations is possible,” Mr Cotton said.

“In fact, constructive dialogue with everyone at the table is the only way that we will meet the shared challenges before the industry – whether it’s securing supply chains or transitioning shipping towards sustainability.”

Mr Cotton said it was important that all parts of the Maersk Group upheld workers’ rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining, provisions for which are clearly set out in the International Labour Organization’s conventions C87 and C98.

“Svitzer need not engage in a short-sighted race to the bottom that will leave tug workers worse off and our supply chains far less secure,” he said.

“We know that Svitzer is capable of changing the direction of its conduct in Australia, and starting instead to actually reflect the best of Maersk’s values – some of which we have seen in action during this pandemic.”

ITF Inland Navigation Section chair Yury Sukhorukov said A.P. Moller–Maersk had an ethical responsibility to lead all the industries within which it operates towards better standards for pay and conditions, and health and safety.

“We have seen elsewhere that mistakes happen when tug crew have their wages reduced, or crew sizes are cut to lower, ridiculously unsafe levels – just to squeeze the wages bill within cheaper and cheaper contract bids by operators,” Mr Sukhorukov said.

“It is unwise for shipping companies and other port clients to pile so much risk onto this critical sector – a rise in accidents, injuries, and stalled supply chains are all completely foreseeable outcomes.”

Mr Sukhorukov said a safe tug sector is in Maersk’s long-term interest.

“I am sure that when Maersk Group takes the time to stand back and see the bigger picture, they will come to understand that everyone benefits from a safe, secure and stable tug sector,” he said.

“We look forward to Maersk therefore reasserting its support for the rights of tug workers to collectively bargain for fair wages, secure jobs, and safe hours of work and rest – of course, as part of a new collective agreement with our fraternal unions in Australia.”

Svitzer Australia declined to comment for this article, but previously, the company’s manager director Nicolaj Noes said negotiations had been ongoing for more than two years.

“The process is exhausted. Terminating the agreement is a first step to a realistic resolution,” he said.

“The 2016 enterprise agreement contains a plethora of restrictive work practices and interference in managerial and operational decision-making which are aimed at reducing productivity and utilisation and increase the company’s fixed costs.

“Svitzer is not prepared to agree to a new enterprise agreement that replicates legacy terms which had been agreed more than 22 years ago, in a completely different market.”