The Albanese government is under pressure to ban the unilateral abolition of EBAs, but the Prime Minister was unable to say whether it planned to do so on Thursday beyond pledging that he was “sure” the issue would be discussed at the September Jobs and Skills Summit.
“We’ve said repeatedly that the industrial relations system is not working in the interests of business or in the interests of workers and we will look to have constructive discussions between both employers and unions around how we can change that,” he said.
Friday’s strike will see Svitzer workers at the Cairns, Newcastle, Sydney, port Kembla, Adelaide, Fremantle, Geraldton and Albany ports stop work for four hours from 9.00amAEST, while their colleagues in Melbourne and Brisbane will strike for 24 hours.
Svitzer and the three unions – the MUA, Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers and the Australian Maritime Officers Union – have been negotiating for a new EBA since the existing one lapsed in 2019 but, despite having more than 50 meetings and at one point an in-principle agreement, have not reached a resolution.
A spokeswoman for the tugboat behemoth said on Thursday that it had offered to “maintain crew salaries and core conditions” as part of that process but was at loggerheads with the unions over “reasonable productivity improvements” to the agreement.
“Svitzer has been forced to go down the path of EA termination in an attempt to bring certainty to our employees, customers and stakeholders,” she said.
But Mr Newlyn accused the company of using COVID-19 as an excuse to strip workers of basic rights and that it was “hell-bent on going down the path of [EBA] termination”.
He said the unions had dropped all their own demands in the EBA negotiations and were instead focused on protecting the rights workers had temporarily given up because of the pandemic, but that Svitzer had still not backed down.
“We haven’t asked for a lot at all, all we’ve been doing is contesting the claims of Svitzer … all our claims have gone out the window,” he said, noting the maritime workers had not had a pay rise for three years.
“They’ve used COVID to justify their attacks, but actually, they and their parent company [AP Moller Maersk] have recorded massive profits because of the supply chain difficulties.”
Mr Newlyn called for the termination of EBAs in favour of awards to be banned, saying it was unfairly used as a weapon by employers in negotiations.
“We absolutely think it should be abolished, this is a militant employer who are taking militant action against their own workers to drive down wages and conditions because of their own issues in the market.”
Svitzer said it expected disruption across all ports where strikes were occurring on Friday, but especially in Brisbane and Melbourne where workers were stopping for 24 hours.
“Svitzer is doing all it can to minimise the disruption to customers, ports and the communities we operate in,” its spokeswoman said.
Mr Newlyn said there would be “some disruption to shipping” from the strikes – with the duration of the stoppage at each port decided by local members – but that tugboat services for naval vessels and cruise ships would continue.
“They’re exempt, we won’t disrupt the holidaying Australian public, and we support defence.”
The striking workers will have a national meeting via Zoom with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and its national secretary Sally McManus during the strike.
CFMEU official taken to court
In an unrelated incident, the Australian Building and Construction Commission launched a legal action against the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union and one of its officials, Arron Platt, on Thursday over allegations he threatened and verbally abused the managers of a Woolworths distribution centre in March.
The ABCC, which the Albanese government is in the process of dismantling, claimed Mr Platt intimidated and offended Woolworths managers when trying to enter the centre with comments such as “Get f**ked you c**t” and “This is a small industry, I can make your life hard”.
It is the first case the Commission has launched since Labor won government and comes just a week after Federal Circuit Court Judge Salvatore Vasta said there were not enough powers to deter the CFMEU’s lawless behaviour, after fining the union the maximum possible penalty for “disgusting” homophobic slurs and abuse on building sites.