A strike that threatened to cripple Australia's busiest port, Melbourne, from Sunday has been averted, after the warring parties reached an in-principle agreement over improved wages and conditions.
After more than seven hours of tense negotiations, the Maritime Union of Australia and stevedore firm DP World agreed late on Friday night to a deal that could halt the planned 24-hour strike, as well as a threatened retaliatory one-day lockout by the company.
MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin told the Weekend Financial Review that the parties had agreed to a complex deal that was "in the ballpark" of union demands for a 15 per cent pay rise over three years, plus improved conditions including superannuation.
"The talks have been constructive and we have reached an in-principle agreement which will need to be put to our members for approval," he said.
Mr Crumlin said MUA officials would recommend on Saturday that its Melbourne workers halt the strike, but conceded that the complexity of the yet-to-be-completed deal might prove a sticking point.
A DP World Australia spokesman said the in-principle agreements "open the way for settlement of the enterprise agreement".
"Subject to confirmation the union actions are withdrawn, the company will withdraw the lockout notice to its Melbourne employees and other notices of intent," he said.
More meetings are planned for next week.
Before the meeting, the maritime union had vowed to widen its waterfront wage battle to Sydney with strikes at Port Botany if its Melbourne workers were locked out.
On Thursday, The Australian Financial Reviewrevealed the strike threat prompted a promise of a 24-hour lockout of workers from DP World that would in effect shut down half of Melbourne Port for two days.
Mr Crumlin said the MUA demand for a 15 per cent wage increase over three years plus higher super for its 2000 members at DP World's five terminals in Brisbane, Sydney, Fremantle, Melbourne and Adelaide was reasonable.
"We're after virtually the same claim . . . which we negotiated in the middle of the financial crisis in 2008," he said.
He said since the sale of a majority stake in DP World to US Bank Citigroup in late 2010, the company's global management team had become more adversarial.
"We've never had any issue with them even during the Patrick dispute [in the 1990s]," he said. "All we can put it down to is . . . a high turnover in management at the global level."
DP World this week said the cost of the deal was greatly increased by changes to employment conditions and demands would cost $60 million over the life of the agreement.