A PROSECUTION lodged by the Fair Work Commission against the Maritime Union and seafarers who did a two-month sit-in on the MV Portland has been dismissed by the Federal Court.
The 10 seafarers had staged their protest on grounds the ship was to be sailed to Singapore and the route taken over by foreign-flagged ships.
The FWO sought fines and damages over claims the protest constituted unlawful industrial action.
The MV Portland was used to carry alumina from Kwinana in Western Australia to its Portland Aluminium Smelter in Victoria for 27 years.
Federal Court Justice Mordecai Bromberg ruled in favour of the MUA’s argument that a clause in the vessel’s employment agreement that stated it was in place “whilst the vessel operates in the trade” meant it had ceased to apply at the time of the sit-in.
Justice Bromberg said given the critical nature of this argument to the FWO’s case, the substantive proceeding should be dismissed.
MUA assistant national secretary Ian Bray said the decision was a significant win.
“For four-and-a-half years, the Fair Work Ombudsman has pursued legal action against the union and our members, refusing numerous attempts to mediate a resolution and instead taking it to trial in the Federal Court,” Mr Bray said.
“The ruling by Justice Bromberg, which confirms the long-argued position of the MUA and our members that the employment agreement ceased to operate once Alcoa announced the MV Portland was being replaced from service, blows a hole in the FWO case.
“This is a significant victory for the 10 brave Australian seafarers who spent two months on board this vessel, without pay, in an effort to defend one of the few remaining Australian-registered vessels trading on our coast.”
In his judgement, Justice Bromberg appeared to leave open the option of further FWO action.
“However, and although I have received some submissions on this issue, that preliminary view ought not to deny the FWO any further opportunity it may seek to contend for a different consequential outcome,” Justice Bromberg said.
“The parties should confer, agree on appropriate orders and provide proposed orders on or before 14 August 2020. If there is no agreement, I will have the matter re-listed and receive the submissions of the parties as to the disposition of the proceeding.”
Mr Bray said the public should hold the Turnbull, Abbott and Morrison governments to account for their role in not only sending maritime jobs offshore, but then prosecuting the Australian workers who tried to save them.