Patrick Terminals has issued a notice to customers today about a raft of protected industrial actions (PIAs) planned over the coming weeks around the country, including 40 in the Melbourne Terminal alone during October.
Patrick claims the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has launched an aggressive round of nationwide strikes during the peak pre-Christmas freight period at the largest container terminals in the country including Sydney, Fremantle and Melbourne, as well as rolling industrial action in Brisbane.
The company, owned by Qube Holdings (ASX: QUB) and Canada's Brookfield Asset Management, reports it has been negotiating with the MUA since February last year and has held nearly 70 meetings in search of a new enterprise agreement.
"The MUA is clearly embarking on a major pre-Christmas industrial campaign. For more than a year, we have been dealing with overtime and other bans at ports around the country," Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said.
However, MUA assistant national secretary Jamie Newly describes Patrick's claims about the breakdown of talks as "exaggerated" and "untrue", calling on the company to "stop trying to alarm the public" by suggesting Christmas is at risk.
"The truth is there is ample capacity for other stevedoring companies on the Australian waterfront to load and unload cargo and we don’t accept that there is any threat that imported goods will be in short supply due to the commencement of protected industrial action by our members," Newlyn said.
"Productivity is at a high and Protected Industrial Action is a last resort to finalise an agreement that is almost 18 months past expiry."
The Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) highlights the Melbourne Terminal is set to be the hardest hit with strikes that will be "effectively closing" East Swanson Terminal every Monday, Wednesday and Friday during October, with impacts across all other days of the month.
Patrick's Sydney Autostrad Terminal will endure workforce performance bans in the first week of October, alongside a closure of the terminal over the weekend of 2-3 October.
Meanwhile, work performance and overtime bans will take place at both the Patrick Brisbane and Fremantle Terminals.
The CTAA expects the impact will be felt in increased vessel berthing delays, particularly in Melbourne and Sydney, while landside import pick up and export receival schedules will be severely disrupted.
The association also believes this could lead to some vessels omitting affected ports like Melbourne and Sydney, leading to potential transhipment delays and "rolled" export consignments.
"CTAA continues to urge Patrick, the maritime union, and Patrick's employees to reach a resolution to their Enterprise Bargaining negotiations which have been ongoing for over 18 months," the association said.
"CTAA would also support any actions by Patrick to seek a lawful intervention to the "stalemate" through the Fair Work Commission (FWC) as the actions will clearly cause more economic harm to the Australian economy."
Jovicic describes the MUA's actions as "frankly bewildering".
"This blatantly aggressive strike action demonstrates that it has no regard for the suffering of everyday Australians who have felt the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, job losses and restrictions over the past 18 months," Jovicic said.
"It seems that the union is trying to starve the Melbourne public of Christmas presents after all that Victorians have gone through over the past 18 months - it is truly mind-boggling.
"We have bargained with the MUA for over 19 months and provided a very generous pay increase, guaranteed no redundancies and provided a commitment to preserving jobs."
Jamie Newlyn of the MUA said Patrick had claimed it would “roll-over” the existing Enterprise Agreement, but had insisted on changes that its workforce would not accept including increased casualisation that would limit future secure employment opportunities.
Newlyn has also accused Patrick of gouging through Terminal Access Charges and other shipping fees which are adding to the cost of goods for customers and Australian consumers, despite registering record profits.
"Patrick employees are rightly frustrated at corporate tactics to deny a modest pay rise and remove previously agreed conditions on secure jobs," Newlyn said.
"Had the CEO not intervened in the Port Botany bargaining, agreement would have been reached locally."
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