SVITZER has applied to terminate its enterprise agreement with the Maritime Union of Australia, the Australian Maritime Officers Union, and the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers.

The termination follows two years of negotiations with the three maritime unions, involving more than 50 meetings and two conciliation sessions facilitated by the Fair Work Commission.

According to Svitzer, the talks were driven by a need for greater operational flexibility and control as competition increases.

The company said the current agreement, which lapsed in 2019, has reportedly led to inefficiencies and limitations on workplace productivity.

Svitzer Australia managing director Nicolaj Noes said he was extremely disappointed that the negotiations had amounted to nothing after so much effort.

“Svitzer has been bargaining in good faith for over two years,” he said. “The process is exhausted. Terminating the agreement is a first step to a realistic resolution.”

“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,” Mr Noes said.

“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.

“We are looking to secure an enterprise agreement which reflects the current market and meets our customers’ demands and expectations.”

Svitzer said termination under the Fair Work Commission means the existing agreement would cease to apply to its 540 employees, who would instead be covered by the Marine Towage Award 2020.

“The application by Svitzer for termination of its enterprise agreement with the three maritime unions is disappointing but not surprising,” AIMPE acting federal secretary Michael Bakhaazi said.

“Svitzer have not been genuine about their negotiations for some time. The company’s proposal was overwhelmingly rejected by 92% of employees who voted no.”

MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newlyn said the union had been negotiating “in good faith” for an outcome that all parties are content with, but to no avail.

“The efforts of the AIMPE, AMOU and the MUA to work co-operatively have not been matched by the company,” he said.

“Today’s action by company management is an act of militant brinksmanship and should be called out as an unhelpful and needlessly aggressive action by an employer against their loyal employees.”

Mr Newlyn said the majority refusal from Svitzer’s employees indicates the proposed deal is “unfair and unreasonable”.

He suggested the timing of the application would have a particularly adverse impact on the workforce.

“Amidst the global supply chain crisis unfolding right now, Svitzer’s militant behaviour will only exacerbate the already vulnerable position Australian businesses and consumers have found themselves in throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mr Newlyn.

“Abandoning the flexibility and productivity that the enterprise agreement provides and forcing the entire workforce on to the basic award will have a massive knock-on effect, making it all but impossible for round-the-clock operations at Svitzer Tugs to continue.”

AMOU executive officer Mark Davis said the unions are prepared to persevere towards a settlement until the agreement reaches the point of termination.

“We’ll keep negotiating until we can negotiate no more, and we’ve always been willing to,” Mr Davis said.

“The AMOU has been at the vanguard of proposing settlements, and we haven’t succeeded of course, but we’re always the ones that are willing to make compromises, but only to a certain extent.

“We’ve been progressively confronted with more and more negative settlements from Svitzer, and that’s the situation we’re in now.

“We’ll keep negotiating, but since COVID came in, it’s all been downhill in the towage industry since the introduction of competition and with Svitzer’s attitude regarding the terms and conditions of employment of our members.”

With no set deadline for the termination of the agreement, Svitzer has also said the company will continue to negotiate with the unions.