Fremantle Workers Strike: Life Is Simply Too Precious

MUA workers on several of Patrick bulk and general cargo facilities have declared enough is enough: they will risk their lives and livelihood no more without a clear commitment to safety from management.

Workers in Patrick's facilities at Fremantle, Albany, Melbourne's Webb Dock, and Geelong voted  overwhelmingly to take protected action after being balloted by the AEC.

Fremantle is taking industrial action today, the 27th.

MUA members at Albany has given the company notice to take action as of Thursday December 30.

Webb Dock and Geelong have yet to provide notice to the company of when they are considering action.

MUA National Secretary and President of International Transport Workers' Federation Paddy Crumlin said he shared the workers' frustration and was baffled that Patrick management could not see how unpopular and outdated their position is.

 "Even senior Coalition MPs have been feverishly running from their disastrous IR polices of the Howard era, claiming Work Choices to be "dead, buried, cremated". Patricks, however, are trying their darnedest to resurrect it on our waterfront," said Mr Crumlin.

"After six months of patient, reasonable and determined negotiations on our part, Patrick has refused to meet the Union even part of the way.

"This is not an unreasonable wage claim; in fact wages are quite literally the least of our priorities. This is about the safety and wellbeing of workers at Patrick bulk and general facilities.

"This action is also about the pride in our work and the desire of any worker to have certainty in their career and the possibility of a clear path and progression in that career.

"I am horrified to hear that OH&S representatives that have raised safety issues on behalf of workers have been targeted by management through disciplinary measures. This same heavy handed approach by management is applied across the workforce.

"With the assistance of Work Choices, Patrick has instilled an antiquated and - frankly - dangerous management culture at these facilities.

"Despite 3 deaths on the waterfront this year alone, Patrick has no clear commitment to OH&S in its bulk cargo facilities," said Mr Crumlin.

A startling 60 per cent of the workforce is employed on a causal basis, with no clear pathway to either part time or permanent positions. In another telling and atrocious statistic, many workers have been casual for over 9 years and the average is around 5 years. There is minimal training and it is delivered without a strategic or purposeful framework. 

The claims being pursued by MUA members seek to provide:

  • Increase the levels of permanency
  • Career progression
  • Training for skills
  • OH&S training and adherence to procedures that will enhance the safety culture on the waterfront.
  • Greater accountability for the actions of management
  • Better processes for consultation rather than enforcement.
  • A disputes procedure that allows for arbitration by an independent umpire when the parties are unable to resolve disputes themselves.

Mr Crumlin insisted these claims are not without significant grounds, nor without significant rewards to Patrick management.

"Ultimately, members want a workplace that provides safe, decent permanent jobs, which in turn will reduce the current high turnover of employees. Surely Patrick recognises that stabilising the skill sets and experience on the waterfront will return a more driven, efficient workforce.

"This will contribute to a safer work place as long as established safety procedures and proper training is introduced," said Mr Crumlin.

The union remain committed to meeting with Patrick to get an agreement. However despite six months of negotiations and no resolution to the National claims, the company has not managed to close out any local negotiations at any of the 12 sites currently negotiating.