Communist Party of Australia

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Issue #1586      March 20, 2013

MUA members fight for jobs

Global stevedoring company DP World plans to bring in a massive program of automation at its operations in Brisbane in October. It is determined to not only destroy jobs but slash working conditions and casualise jobs in pursuit of larger profits while eroding coverage of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). DP World informed the union at a meeting in early February this year of its job crucifying plans. The MUA whose members are affected, has a massive struggle on its hands to defend conditions and protect as many jobs as possible.

Automation in the hands of profit-driven stevedoring companies is set to have a far bigger impact in terms of redundancies than the effect of containerisation in the 1960 and ’70s.

Automation, which is being implemented by all three stevedore companies in Brisbane, is centred around the introduction of auto-stacking cranes which lift and transfer containers (from the wharf onto the truck). The automation process is occurring around the globe.

The MUA is fighting to retain the maximum number of jobs and improved conditions. It has already established good working conditions in the new Hutchison operation, including reduced hours of work. But DP World is holding out, refusing to budge on its slash-and-burn approach.

Its proposals include reducing the number of wharfies with permanent rostered jobs from 97 to 25 and the number of unrostered permanent wharfies (variable salaried employees) whose income is not guaranteed, from 149 to 80. The planned changes would see an increase in the percentage of casuals from 12 to 25 percent.

“We refuse to be cut to the bone on the basis of dodgy company projections that are about eroding unionism, especially through casualisation,” MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith told The Guardian.

“The company talks of numbers. We talk of people and realise every job means an impact on a family, on kids. This reality seems somewhat lost as the extreme agenda of the company is rolled out,” he said.

Patrick’s auto-strad terminal in Brisbane has three times the amount of rostered permanents as DP World is proposing and the straddles for moving containers along the wharf are driverless! The straddles will not be driverless at DP World.

“Logic dictates they are trying to rort the situation and rob us of viable permanent jobs,” the union said in a leaflet distributed to members. The company is also attempting to hive off some MUA members’ jobs to managers and supervisors, reneging on previous job guarantees.

The MUA is demanding a trial of the new equipment to test the company’s claims.

“If the company does not move we will be calling for solidarity and action against DP World in all of their operations internationally, as well as targeting the Citi Group which provides the capital behind DP World Australia”.

The Dockers’ section of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has expressed its support for the workers and a call has gone out to unions around the world to do the same. So far the MUA has received over 50 messages of support from unions internationally.

ITF Dockers’ section secretary Sharon James said, “Please convey to our comrades in Brisbane that ITF dockers’ unions stand united with them in their struggle. … we are determined that automation will not be used as a means to break or reduce the power of unions. If the time comes, we will mobilise the support of this great union family to their cause.”

Guardian readers can express their solidarity by going to the ITF website www.itfglobal.org and clicking on “dockers” and then looking for the link to the Brisbane dispute.  

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