The Guardian November 1, 2000


MUA prosecutes Patrick

by Andrew Jackson

The Maritime Union of Australia is prosecuting Patrick on behalf of six 
workers, claiming the cut in staff numbers and poor Occupational Health and 
Safety measures have resulted in a series of physical injuries to 
workers.

The MUA claims an estimated one in four wharfies at Patrick's Port Botany 
terminal (30 out of 120 employees), suffers from neck, shoulder and back 
injuries due to changed working conditions since their new enterprise 
agreement came into place.

Prior to the dispute in 1998, three drivers were assigned to each straddle 
(the crane that lifts and stacks the containers). While one driver operated 
the straddle the other two worked lashing/unlashing containers, driving 
light vehicles, and assisted cleaning and clerical staff. 

This ensured that during the course of one shift the three drivers were 
able to rotate duties and reduce the strain of working in cramped, poorly 
designed cabins.

Since the dispute, in a bid to cut costs and increase profits, only one 
driver has been allocated to each shift.

This forces the operators to work contorted in their seats for hours at a 
time, their heads and necks twisted at a 90 degree angle while driving 
sideways. Each straddle driver is only allowed one break per shift.

The MUA says this has lead to "crippling injuries" at Port Botany, and that 
the situation in other states is no better.

Central NSW Branch Secretary Robert Coombs says the court documents were 
lodged last week, although he is not optimistic of a hearing before 
Christmas. 

In the mean time Chris Corrigan, despised chairman of Patrick's parent 
company Lang Corp Ltd, has outlined plans to spend up to $200 million over 
the next five years to remove drivers from the straddles altogether.

Explaining it simply, Mr Corrigan said "There's a new wave of technologies 
which will culminate in a dramatic increase in throughputs per land area 
and berth metre. This will match the accelerated trend towards larger 
vessels and industry consolidation."

Patrick Stevedores is hoping to introduce fully automated straddles, where 
drivers would sit in an office, or even at home, using cameras to control 
the loading of containers.

Back to index page