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Issue #1696      August 5, 2015

Union busting through automation

MUA takes on port operator Hutchinson

International ports operator, Hong Kong based Hutchinson Ports Holdings, is preparing to use automation and “forced redundancies” – sackings – to destroy nearly half the jobs at its Port Botany (Sydney) and Brisbane ports. Ninety-seven of 224 workers face the sack.

The company is citing “competition” with other port operators - as its driver to “effectively reduce the size of the Australian workforce”` so it can deliver “a better and more efficient offering” to businesses importing and exporting through Australian ports.

Hutchinson has been “assessing” workers for their “commitment to health and safety initiatives, ability to work in a team environment, skills and productivity”, with a view to choosing which workers to retain and who will be in a reserve pool so the company will also have “access to a trained casual workforce” some time in the future, if “business conditions improved”, according to a July 24 company memo obtained by the Australian Financial Review.

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) assistant secretary Warren Smith, compared this process to “ranking animals at a fair” (to determine the ones most fit for slaughter) and expressed the MUA’s concerns that Hutchinson management is walking around with a ‘hatchet list’ – picking off delegates and activists in a bid to bust union influence.

Hutchinson “is basically sneaking automated equipment in under the noses of the MUA, so there is no requirement to have negotiated manning levels or coverage,” Mr Smith said.

The MUA has an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement with Hutchinson that is current until February 2016, that obliges the company to work with the union in a cooperative and collaborative manner in implementing changes on the waterfront.

“Our EBA deals with situations like this and the company must discuss with us to avert and mitigate job losses. The company has not met with the union to discuss any of this yet,” said Mr Smith.

No automation without negotiation! No automation to bust unions!

“We won’t accept automation without negotiation and we won’t accept automation as union busting. We will make sure this company adheres to its moral obligations and commitments,” he said, and the “MUA is prepared to accept job cuts if the company could justify them,” but Hutchinson “needs to put the facts on the table and talk through solutions in a non-litigious environment.”

“If they’re genuine, we are prepared to come back with a range of creative solutions to get through whatever difficult times the company is confronting,” Mr Smith said, but the MUA will “unleash every tool available – legal, political and industrial – to stop Hutchinson Ports unfairly sacking almost half its waterfront workforce.”

The MUA workers in Sydney and Brisbane are being supported by the MUA nationally.

They also have the support of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

Hutchinson is in the sights of the ITF because it is not only using automation and sackings to get rid of union members in Australia, but is taking on a port concession in Indonesia that is suspected of having “secret” clauses that disadvantage port workers and Indonesian national and local interests more generally.

Union members at Port Botany and Brisbane have responded to Hutchinson’s unilateral moves by stopping work for half a day on July 30 and on Monday August 3 a rally was held at Port Botany, signalling MUA workers’ intent to fight back against Hutchinson’s threat of unfair sackings.

If Hutchinson does not soon make a commitment to come to the table with the MUA this dispute can only escalate.

Next article – Unemployment in Australian 2015 – Two million (plus) too many

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