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‘It’s on’: Melbourne ports dispute set to escalate

A dispute on Melbourne’s docks is set to escalate after Qube Ports applied to terminate an industrial agreement on salary and conditions that took more than two decades to negotiate.

Maritime workers returned to work on Monday after staging a 48-hour snap strike at Qube Ports’ facility in Melbourne prompting the company to fly in workers by helicopter.

Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said workers had introduced industrial bans and had restricted shifts to seven hours. Shifts had varied from four to 12 hours.

“Excessive 12 hour shifts are not required now and are a fatigue issue,” he said.

Mr Smith said workers would refuse to return to work if Qube was successful in its push to terminate the existing enterprise agreement.

“If there is going to be an escalation in a big way that is what it is going to be about because the workers will not work under the award,” he said. “If they want to strip away 25 years of bargaining history, then it’s on.”

The union has been seeking the reinstatement of a 2014 roster arrangement that allowed employees to work long and irregular shifts for seven weeks with the eighth week off as part of negotiations for a new enterprise agreement.

The guarantee of the eighth week off was removed during a period of economic downturn, but the union argues the company’s healthy financial position warrants that it be returned.

“Nothing is certain because everything has to be approved by the employer. You cannot lock in any time with your family and one week in eight gave them the capacity to do that,” Mr Smith said.

A spokesman for Qube said the company would not reinstate the 2014 roster because it was “completely uneconomic”.

“We are always happy to keep talking with the union but it does need them to tone down the overblown rhetoric and come to a sensible deal on behalf of their members,” he said.

The spokesman said Qube made an application with the Fair Work Commission on Friday to terminate the existing enterprise agreement.
Qube provides labour to a company called MIRRAT which handles bulk car imports.

Qube Ports director Michael Sousa said the company flew in 36 managers to the site to unload a ship carrying cars.

“We have spent more than two and a half years negotiating and had 43 meetings with the MUA,” Mr Sousa said.

“We have moved from having to reduce pay to being able to offer pay rises of close to 10 per cent over the next four years. Every port around Australia has accepted similar deals.”

ACTU secretary Sally McManus said working people need the power to negotiate fair pay rises and secure jobs “on a level footing with big business”.

“This won’t happen while companies can threaten agreement terminations that cut people’s pay and endanger their job security,” she said.
“Qube are abusing loopholes and broken rules to enrich themselves at the expense of working people.

“We need to change the rules so that working people like the MUA members at Qube can win fair pay and good, secure jobs.”
Source: The Sydney Morning Herald

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