Ports, mine targeted in CFMEU hit
Wharfies earning up to $150,000 a year for working 33 hours a week will launch industrial action at Hutchison Ports Australia this week, condemning the lossmaking stevedore’s bid to cut their pay and conditions as the “most severe attack on waterfront conditions in a generation”.
The industrial action at Hutchison, which fears the union bans could escalate into strikes disrupting operations at international container terminals in Sydney and Brisbane, came as Construction Forestry Maritime Mining and Energy Union members at a NSW coalmine voted yesterday to extend a seven-day strike by a further week.
Employers last night expressed concern at the industrial action by different divisions of the CFMEU, with Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive James Pearson insisting strikes should be a last resort.
“The sight of Australia’s megaunion, the CFMEU, flexing its industrial muscle to hold up ports and shut down mines is a sharp reminder of why we need workplace laws that encourage cooperation, not conflict in the workplace,’’ Mr Pearson said.
“Big unions are putting pressure on the Labor Party to make big changes to workplace rules to give themselves even more power. That’s a sobering prospect with an election just around the corner.”
Hutchison said wharfies at its Port Botany international container terminal in Sydney earned on average $150,000 a year with superannuation and Port of Brisbane workers received $130,000 annually for an average working week of 30 to 33 hours.
Employees get 11 weeks off a year — five weeks’ annual leave and an extra rostered week off every eight weeks, up to 13 days’ sick leave, and 12 per cent superannuation.
The company is seeking to slash pay rates by 10 per cent followed by a 12-month wage freeze; reduce the superannuation contribution to 9.5 per cent; and cut sick leave, redundancy and long service entitlements.
Maritime union assistant national secretary Warren Smith said workers would start imposing a range of work bans from Thursday, including bans on overtime and higher duties. The Maritime Union of Australia became part of the CFMEU last year.
“Our members refuse to sit back and watch as four decades of hard-won conditions are stripped away by a greedy multinational whose only concern is maximising its own profits,’’ he said.
“We will not accept an agreement that rips us off and reduces our standard of living, and the MUA is committed to using every industrial and legal tool at our disposal in our fight to protect conditions and safety standards on the waterfront.
“The actions of Hutchison Ports highlight exactly why the Australian union movement has launched the Change the Rules campaign, to challenge the actions of big corporations who
Employers have attacked federal Labor’s plan to ban companies from unilaterally terminating enterprise agreements, claiming it would leave firms more vulnerable to changing market conditions, discourage enterprise bargaining and suppress, rather than encourage, pay rises.
Opposition workplace relations spokesman Brendan O’Connor said successful employer applications to unilaterally terminate enterprise agreements had led to workers being worse off, and Labor would prohibit them if it won the federal election.
Mr O’Connor said it was unfair and unacceptable that terminations further drove down pay when wages growth was at its lowest in 20 years.
Labor’s policy is backed by unions, which claim employers are seeking to terminate agreements in the “dying days” of the Morrison government.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox accused unions of “wild and false assertions”, claiming the facts did not support the policy change.
Mr Willox said Fair Work Commission data showed fewer than 3 per cent of applications to terminate expired enterprise agreements in the past two to three years had been contested.
He said there had been only a handful of rigorously contested enterprise agreement termination applications over the past five years.
“There were very exceptional circumstances in each case, and the agreement was only terminated after a very lengthy period of bargaining and extensive Fair Work Commission proceedings,’’ Mr Willox said.
“Also, in each case generous over-award wages and conditions were maintained despite the termination of the agreement.”
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry workplace relations director Scott Barklamb said it was vitally important that employers had the capacity to terminate “outmoded agreements”.
“If employers can no longer apply to have enterprise agreements terminated, they are going to be even more reticent to use them in the first place, and this will suppress, rather than encourage, wage increases,’’ he said. “The conditions and concerns of employers and employees today will not apply in perpetuity. Employers and employees must have flexibility to adapt, and you don’t get there by cementing today’s priorities in stone.”
Mr Barklamb said unions repeatedly claimed that agreements were being regularly and widely terminated by employers unilaterally but “that’s just untrue”. “In the handful of cases where applications are contested, the bar is very high and the Fair Work Act contains substantial protections to strike the right balance for all parties involved,’’ he said.
Tara Diamond, acting chief executive of the Australian Mines and Metals Association, said there was no reasonable justification for Labor’s proposal.
“The ability for either party to an agreement, be it a union or an employer, to unilaterally apply for its termination has been a necessary and largely uncontroversial feature of our enterprise bargaining system since the 1996 Workplace Relations Act,” she said. “Only a tiny percentage of applications made over that time have been contested.”
One of the striking coalminers at Wongawilli