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DP World to shed another 200 wharfies as docks dispute escalates

Australia’s biggest port operator DP World is telling dock workers that 200 jobs will be made redundant in Sydney and Melbourne as the company grapples with stalled union negotiations and growing commercial pressures.

DP World Australia’s chief operating officer Andrew Adam told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald that the company had no choice but to shed 200 staff – 100 in Melbourne (on top of 50 stevedores who will leave the business this week) and 100 in Sydney. About 1800 stevedores work at the company.

“It’s a decision not taken lightly, but we’ve lost volume and market share since last year,” Mr Adam said.

“With the current position of the union, there is not a prospect of an agreement so we have to continue to manage the business in light of those cost items.”

The announcement comes as the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) steps up strike action around the country and supply chains report losses of more than $5 million a week as a result of delays to the loading of imports and exports stuck at major ports.

Mr Adam said 40 ships and up to 110,000 containers have been delayed, with four of the ship vessels offloaded to other stevedores.

“Refrigerated cargo capacity [for exports] is diminishing in Melbourne,” he said. “So there is concern in relation to export refrigerated cargo out of the largest port in the country.” The export of goods, including oranges and melons, was mainly affected.

Mr Adam said he was not aware of any urgent medical supplies or emergency items being held up in shipping containers entering the country.

The union is protesting against the company’s refusal to rule out automation, outsourcing and its claims for income protection in a new enterprise agreement.

MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the timing of the redundancies was an attempt to threaten workers into accepting cuts to their rights and conditions.

“From day one DP World started with threats to our families. Management have refused to meet, telling wharfies that they’ll get an agreement only if they withdraw their claims and accept the company’s claims, which result in less job security and worse conditions,” he said.

“It started with threats to workers income protection insurance, now they are targeting wharfies jobs.”

While the union, which is part of the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union, has complained about the company’s failure to continue talks, Mr Adam said it was a waste of time meeting when the union was not prepared to shift its position.

He said the company had compromised by reducing its 24 original claims on the enterprise bargaining table to five. The union had dropped six of its 59 original claims, resulting in “no meaningful progress” in negotiations, he said.

“There has been no change in the union’s position in the last nine days,” Mr Adam said. “They haven’t moved.”

Mr Adam said the union had failed to recognise the “commercial realities” the company was facing.

The only hope of reducing the number of redundancies – albeit not significantly – is a proposal to change the rostering system to make better use of idle time.

But the union’s members working on Melbourne docks refuse to agree, claiming that, if a Sunday shift is cancelled, a member would potentially have to work up to 2½ days during the week to make up for the lost penalties.

Mr Adams said this was a “worst case” scenario because workers had the option of working another Sunday shift if their original one was cancelled.

Under the rostering proposal, a Saturday shift would be worth 1½ week days, while a night shift during the week would be equivalent to two week days.

More than 600 Sydney workers walked off the job for 48 hours from Thursday morning, while 350 Brisbane wharfies will kick off a series of one-hour strikes at the start of every shift from Thursday. In Fremantle, work will stop for 24 hours from Saturday morning.

This week’s protected strike action follows stoppages that shut DP World container terminals for between 48 and 96 hours last week. The strikes involved more than 1800 dock workers in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle.

Mr Smith said DP World was refusing to meet to negotiate a resolution.

“Rather than bargain, management have basically told workers to withdraw their claims entirely and accept the company’s offer or there will be no agreement,” Mr Smith said.

“Most of the workers’ claims are not cost claims, they are about protecting our current conditions which were hard won and fought for historically by a previous generation.”

Mr Adam said that additional claims for income protection and other entitlements were not cost neutral, but would cost the company more than $15 million a year to provide.

He said the company had no plans to automate, but would not agree to a claim that excluded it from taking that option during the term of the enterprise agreement, “particularly when our competitors are automated”.

“Mr Smith has made much of the patience of his membership over the last three months, but equally we have lost volume since last October and we postponed a number of decisions in the interest of trying to finalise an enterprise agreement,” he said. “DP World has been patient as well.”
Source: Sydney Morning Herald

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