The Guardian April 25, 2001


P&O attacks MUA

The Maritime Union and the workers at White Bay and Glebe Island in 
Sydney have suffered a defeat at the hands of P&O. The Company sought to 
vary the existing Bulk and General enterprise agreement. P&O used the 
despicable tactic of threatening to close the terminal or compulsorily sack 
30 permanents (out of 77) and were successful in gaining changes to the 
agreement.

The workers and their union, finding their backs to the wall and a gun 
pointed at their heads, had little choice but to embrace the option that 
was least damaging for members. As a result, the company gained 
"improvements" to the enterprise agreement.

The permanent workers at P&O's Bulk and General facility in Sydney have to 
irregularly work 1365 hours over the year. There were no provisions in the 
agreement to roll over to the next year any unused hours.

But now, under the changes, the company has the ability to roll over a 
large proportion of the unused hours for this year into the next. This will 
greatly increase the workers' time on the job next year.

The reason for there being unused hours this year is due mostly to the fact 
that the permanent labour has been kept off the jobs and casual labour used 
instead.

The workers and the Maritime Union of Australia have for a long time been 
complaining about this use of casual labour, which does not even make sense 
in economic terms. They were in fact paying two workforces.

The company has subsequently sacked nearly the entire Bulk and General 
management and admitted that the course they pursued was wrong and the 
position in relation to the hours was the company's fault. Despite this, 
the company still insisted that the workers must pay.

The workers are always expected to pay under capitalism so this is no 
surprise.

The company also made several other gains around questions of flexibility. 
These include weekend rostering and elimination of "manning scales" except 
for cranes. Thirty casual employees were also sacked. Forty-five casuals at 
Patrick's were also sacked last week.

P&O also flagged its intention to make significant changes within the 
maintenance department at the Sydney Bulk and General facility.

It is events like this however that highlight the desperate need for 
political change and the building of a political alternative.

The unions remain an obstacle to the ultimate plans of the bosses but in 
the present conditions, not even the best organised and most militant 
unions are able to make gains for workers as they have been able to in the 
past.

Due to current political trends they are more and more being forced into a 
defensive role. We are in a new era where political action to improve the 
lot of the workers is essential.

These attacks upon the workers will only stop when the political position 
is altered to favour the rights and needs of the workers and the people 
over the greed and immorality of the big company's and the employing class 
generally.

A mass action political alternative is now the only way for workers to 
improve their lot.

We must all work toward this end.

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