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Asia-PacificAustraliaContainerLogisticsMaritimeOcean shippingTrucking

Marine container terminal operator threatens longshoremen with mass redundancies

A simmering industrial dispute in Australia burst into fire this morning when maritime box terminal operator DP World Australia used local media to threaten longshoremen with job losses if they won’t agree to a new collective employment deal. Strikes have also been confirmed for DPWA’s box terminals in Brisbane and Fremantle in addition to the strike at Sydney.

FreightWaves confirmed with DP World Australia that the contents of the reports in local media are correct. We also understand that senior management at the company had not communicated the potential job losses to the Maritime Union of Australia or the workers prior to making the announcement in the local press.

Hundreds of redundancies announced

DP World Australia’s chief operating officer Andrew Adam is reported as saying that the company must reduce head count by 100 at the DPWA terminal in the Port of Melbourne and by 100 at the DPWA terminal in Sydney.

He is reported in local media as saying that DPWA has lost volume and market share over the course of the last year. Independent sources have made similar comments to FreightWaves in the recent past, explaining that the loss of share is the effect of new entrants to the market (Australia formerly had only two major marine terminal operators; now there are five).  Marine terminal operators have also lost power as their customers, the ocean shipping lines, have consolidated.

Adams is reported as saying that its opponent, the Maritime Union of Australia, is failing to recognise the current commercial situation. He is also reported as saying that the only way to reduce redundancies is to change the rostering system so as to make better use of idle time.

As previously reported in FreightWaves, the Union is seeking to resist the impact of automation and to retain income protection insurance for its members.

FreightWaves understands that a further statement will be issued shortly by the terminal operator. 

Union reacts: “a clear attempt to threaten workers”

Reaction has been received from the Maritime Union. It confirmed the figure of 200 job losses, adding that 47 longshoremen are already due to lose their jobs this week at DPWA in Melbourne.

It has described DPWA’s announcement as “a clear attempt to threaten workers into accepting cuts to their rights and conditions”. 

MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said that DP World’s action in sacking workers to achieve an industrial outcome was an “extreme act” that reflected “unfettered corporate power available to bosses” in today’s society.

“Management have refused to meet telling wharfies [Australian slang meaning “longshoremen”] that they’ll get an agreement only if they withdraw their claims and accept the company’s claims, which result in less job security and worse conditions. It started with threats to workers income protection insurance, now they are targeting wharfies’ jobs.”

Slammed for announcing job losses via the media

The MUA also slammed DP World for notifying media outlets of the cuts before telling workers.

“What kind of company tells the media about job cuts before talking to the workers who are directly affected? This is corporate bullying and intimidation using the livelihoods of wharfies in an attempt to intimidate the workforce into accepting anything the company wants.

“This situation, where a massive multinational company is showing total contempt for Australian workers and their families, shows once again how broken our country’s workplace laws are. Threatening people’s jobs, their livelihoods, and their families well-being should never be considered an acceptable way to achieve an industrial outcome.”

Rolling strikes confirmed at Brisbane

Meanwhile, a series of short strikes has been announced by the Union for the DPWA terminal at Brisbane. The Port of Brisbane handles just over 1.1 million twenty foot equivalent shipping units (TEU) ocean shipping containers each year.

About 350 longshoremen will refuse to work for an hour at the start of each shift. There are about three shifts in a 24 hour period. 

FreightWaves understands that there is a two-fold reason for these one-hour strikes. Firstly, any industrial action is disruptive to the activities of ocean shipping lines, the terminal and road carriers. Frequent and ongoing disruption will inevitably lead to a loss of reputation with customers and suppliers. 

Secondly, the one-hour nature of the strikes minimises the financial burden on longshoremen. Some types of strike action in Australia are “protected” under domestic law. In certain circumstances, it  means that the employer cannot take any adverse disciplinary action against its employees for taking industrial action.

However, employers are also forbidden from paying striking workers. By running a series of one-hour strikes at the beginning of each shift, the Union maintains the pressure on DPWA but it also minimises the financial penalty that its workers bear to the loss of an hour’s pay. There’s a further sting in the tail for the company as it can be time-consuming, and therefore expensive, for the company’s payroll department to arrange one-hour deductions from worker pay. 

Strikes underway around Australia

Meanwhile, as previously reported by FreightWaves, 600 longshoremen have walked off the job for 48 hours as of 06:00 a.m. today at DPWA Sydney and a 24 hour strike is planned for DPWA Fremantle starting early Saturday. 

In a statement about the strikes, released before DPWA spoke to the media this morning, MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said the marine terminal operator is refusing to meet to negotiate a resolution.

“Rather than bargain, management have basically told workers to withdraw their claims entirely and accept the company’s offer or there will be no agreement. We simply will not do this. Most of the worker’s claims are not cost claims, they are about protecting our current conditions which were hard won and fought for historically by a previous generation. It’s not up to us to undo the historical legacy of wharfies and we won’t. Wharfies won’t accept selling their jobs to non-union labour at lower rates and then having those contractors work alongside them on a daily basis. 

“Our jobs are not for sale.

“We also want job saving-protections and commitments from the company covering any future decision to replace wharfies with robots at these terminals.

“The escalation of this rolling industrial action is driven by our members and we support them 100 per cent in protecting their jobs for future generations,” Smith said in a statement.

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Jim Wilson, Australia Correspondent

Sydney-based journalist and photojournalist, Jim Wilson, is the Australia Correspondent for FreightWaves. Since beginning his journalism career in 2000, Jim has primarily worked as a business reporter, editor, and manager for maritime publications in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Australia. He has won several awards for logistics-related journalism and has had photography published in the global maritime press. Jim has also run publications focused on human resources management, workplace health and safety, venture capital, and law. He holds a degree in law and legal practice.

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