Waterside workers employed by Patrick, members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), began rolling strike action in WA and Victoria in December to win more secure employment and better safety in their new enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA).
The union is also seeking a 10 per cent a year pay rise. Crews in Fremantle, Albany, Geelong and Melbourne have all taken protected strike action over Patrick’s widespread use of casualisation.
It refuses to change its practice of telling workers the night before whether they are needed for work the next day. Workers in Albany struck for up to six days in early February, and for three days in Melbourne.
More than 60 per cent of wharfies at Fremantle and more than 70 per cent at Albany work on a casual basis. Some “casuals” have been employed by Patrick for nine years!
Chris Cain, WA state secretary of the MUA, said, “Sometimes they give you an hour’s notice to get down there. If you don’t answer the call or can’t get there, they don’t come asking for you again.” He added, “They say WorkChoices has gone, but down at Patrick’s it has not.”
Under Labor’s Fair Work Australia (FWA) laws unions holding strikes must notify the FWA body weeks in advance, allowing employers to minimise strike disruption. Patrick cleared 11 ships in preparation for the Fremantle stoppage, limiting its impact to two ships.
The MUA says that work safety standards are dangerously low because of the company’s practice of continually replacing its casual staff, which means they are badly trained. Paddy Crumlin, the MUA’s National Secretary, said in late December, “This year alone we’ve had three wharfies killed in the industry because of what we believe to be just this slack, negligent approach to employment practices.”
The three wharfies killed were not employed by Patrick but the fear is that with safety standards so low, it is only a matter of time here too. The unloading of ships, even by crane, is still a dangerous job, as wharfies are in the holds and at risk. The MUA still has a fight on its hands. It will take more strike action at Patrick to win a decent EBA.