Unions from across Victoria have joined the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) at a Melbourne rally today, urging the Abbott Government to back Australian workers and clearly dissociate themselves from the attack on penalty rates by container terminal operator Dubai Ports World.
About 300 workers rallied at the headquarters of Citibank, whose parent company Citigroup owns 75 per cent of Dubai Ports World Australia. The company operates container terminals in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle.
The MUA has been bargaining for more than 11 months for a new national enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) with a view to maximising permanency and job security in the face of automation.
A four hour meeting called by the MUA to report back to members today on the progress of EBA negotiations was met with a 16-hour lockout by Dubai Ports World management.
A key aspect of the dispute centres around Dubai Ports World’s intent to strip new workers of their penalty rates. This will create two levels of workers in the one workplace. There are also significant concerns about job security while national unemployment has rocketed to a 12-year high.
“Since coming to office the Abbott Government has signalled its intention to strip penalty rate entitlements from Australian workers,” MUA Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said.
“The Abbott Government has also loosened restrictions for foreign workers in the offshore oil and gas sector and wants to increase the number of 457 visa holders.
“In addition, Australian jobs will be lost as a result of the Korea-Australian Free Trade Agreement (KAFTA) that came into effect last Friday because the deal means companies do not have to advertise jobs locally first before bringing their own labour from Korea.
“Youth unemployment is now at 14.5 per cent - its highest level since 2001. And the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) released this week said that unemployment is going to increase further."
“We have a jobs crisis unfolding in Australia and it is about time the Abbott Government stood up for Australian workers rather than their mates in big business. Unions and workers are fed up and it’s time to take a stand.”
Mr Smith said Dubai Ports World has tried to create the perception that kids won’t get their Christmas presents due to containers being stuck on ships but the claim is false, compounded by the fact that the timing of this dispute is entirely of the company’s making.
Unions are required by law to give three days’ notice of any protected action. All of the ports affected have multiple operators, so there is enough time for goods to be sub-contracted and unloaded elsewhere.
Both parties have agreed to attend conciliation hearings at the Fair Work Commission in early January.
For all of the photos from the rally, click here.