Life threat

Bullying, intimidation and death culture pervades bulk and general stevedoring, conference hears


Delegates at the Maritime Union's Bulk and General Stevedoring Conference held in the wake of the death of Brad Gray told of widespread management intimidation and bullying behind the poor safety culture on the wharves.

Six waterside workers have died in the past six years and all but one have been killed in bulk and general operations, highlighting the extreme dangers in the industry exacerbated by a culture of fear and intimidation.  Another four have very nearly died at bulk and general operations in Melbourne and Port Kembla in recent weeks.

"It's a major area of struggle," said Warren Smith, Assistant National Secretary.  "You can have the best safety plan in the world and it's nothing if you are getting stood over and you're being told you're not going to get the bonus, you're not going to get trained, you're not going to get a permanent job, you're not going to get picked up if you speak out about safety.   Unless we fix those things unsafe work practices will continue and I reckon you could go back to every death on the waterfront and you can identify the boss was geeing us up, standing over us," he said.

"Bullying, victimisation, harassment and it's all targeted at the delegates, the OH&S reps, the committees, the activists," said Ian Bray, Assistant National Secretary.  "It's about systematically undermining every structure and every fabric we have as organised labour in this country."

Paddy Crumlin, MUA National Secretary and chair of the ITF dockers' section calls for government regulation and safety standards nationally and internationally to stem the deaths of workers on the docks.

"One of the things we are determined to do in the next round of bargaining is to ensure that every stevedore in the country is properly trained so that we can go and ensure there is safety on the job by our ability to know the job," he said.

"We need a plan so that if a ship leaves Brisbane and goes to Sydney, we know where the ship comes from what the problems are; any incident that happened is properly reported so that when wharfies walk up the gangway in Sydney they know what they are in for.  And when it leaves Sydney and goes to Melbourne, same deal.  Leaves Melbourne and goes to Fremantle, same deal. 

"And we want to know further than that - we want to organise the international dock workers so that we can ask the employers if there was any incident on that ship before it came to Australia.  And we want the government's co-ownership of the process and state enforcement.  And the employers say, well we don't need that, it's a bit unnecessary isn't it? - because the death recedes.  They're over it - all they have to do then is to defend the court case and say they weren't negligent and didn't kill that guy but as we know at some level of degree they were responsible for what happened."

The meeting of around 100 officials and rank and file delegates from bulk and general wharves nationwide in Melbourne in May highlighted safety issues behind the recent spate of deaths and injury on the nation's docks.

Warren Smith recalled one recent serious incident where safety issues were ignored until a man nearly died.

"We asked them 'show us your safe work practices' and they rolled out the dog and pony show.  A week before a young lad got crushed on the TT line Spirit II.  The branch and I had been talking to that employer asking them to fix some of the problems on the job.  'No problems here,' they said.  'No problems here.'

"But when a young bloke virtually gets his life taken away from him with massive injuries, the employer decides on 15 changes to the nature of the operation after the branch goes down and makes representations. Why? Because we don't have the ability to enforce it until something tragic happens and we've got to turn that around."

It is even worse in neighbouring countries.

Rarua Ovia of the PNG Maritime Transport Workers' Union told the conference there was a complete lack of training on the PNG wharves.  He went on to tell how management had stood over workers to work through their lunch break.  When they refused they were threatened with loss of future work.  When they reluctantly agreed to work they lost one of their own.   A worker was hit by a 40-foot container on the top of a stack that lunch break.  He later died in hospital.

Ray Fife of the MUNZ said his members had two near-death incidents on log vessels in recent months.   He also held up industry documents on safety codes that were not enforceable and training codes that were all about raising productivity rather than lowering the death and injury rates.

"We had an incident where the crane driver got down and looked over the side and got jammed between logs," said Ray Fife.   "He could have quite easily been crushed.  This code of practice should be enforced by government and adhered to."

The three-day conference also covered organising in the workplace strategies, an overview of the safety on the waterfront campaign for national waterfront safety regulation, legal advice on unfair dismissal and workers' compensation dismissal, superannuation, drug and alcohol policy, campaigning, sexual harassment and the work of MUA veterans.



The Bulk and General Conference resolves that the MUA continue to pursue a stevedoring regulation within the process of the harmonisation of occupational health and safety Acts.  This regulation should underpin a National Stevedoring Code of Practice that promotes the safest possible waterfront working environment.  The conference calls on the membership in all Bulk and General operations to actively support the campaign for the implementation of the National Waterfront Safety Campaign.  That conference supports the rollout of training relating to the Safe Work Australia stevedoring guidelines.

The union should ensure that all necessary training is undertaken on any new occupational health and safety laws and also on the existing SWA stevedoring guidelines.

This conference fully endorses Safe Work environments for all worksites. 

Manning levels

The Bulk and General Conference calls for a complete evaluation of manning levels across the waterfront nationally with a view to the creation of a single set of manning scales for all like-for-like operations.  All OH&S aspects to be evaluated in consideration of a claim for safe and practical operational manning.

Conference resolves that each workplace will undertake a mapping exercise of all manning on all operations, functions and vessel types.

Conference resolves to establish a national approach to manning that includes agreed arrangements with the industry as a whole with a view to national implementation.

Intimidation and harassment

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that a national campaign of zero tolerance be undertaken against the systemic bullying and harassment by all stevedoring employers.

Workload support for delegates

The Bulk and General Conference recognises the key role of delegates within the MUA.  Conference resolves that all efforts should be made to ensure that workplace delegate structures and workplace committees are developed to the maximum extent possible to alleviate the burden on individual delegates.

Organising Capacity

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that all effort be placed on developing the organising capacity at all levels of the union.  With this in mind the union should seek to develop workplace and port-wide organising plans that are supported by workplace union and OH&S training.

Trade Union Training

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that the national training school in St Georges Basin be utilised for the national training schools for members.  Participation in the national training schools should reflect various industry sectors and branches.  That the increased levels of union education be delivered within branches. 


The Bulk and General Conference resolves to continue support for the MUA’s international traditions and ongoing engagement within the international trade union movement.  Further conference supports National Secretary Paddy Crumlin’s candidacy for President of the International Transport Workers’ Federation and his advocacy of the transformation of the ITF into an organising and fighting global union federation.

The Bulk and General conference supports the full involvement of the rank and file in the international work of the MUA.

Selection Criteria

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that national selection criteria be developed that is open, transparent and adequately reflects length of service.  Conference rejects subjective elements such as workers being rated by management and peers.

Supplementary accrual of LSL

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that all categories of labour including supplementary (casual) be eligible for the accrual of paid long service leave in all jurisdictions.


The Bulk and General Conference resolves that a Bulk and General communication network be established to facilitate the sharing of information between all Bulk and General ports via an information sharing website.

Closed Port Days

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that the union continue the move towards removal of compulsion to work on Closed Port Days.  Further this be a consistent claim across stevedoring EBA negotiations.

Maritime Security

The Bulk and General Conference condemns the Rudd Government’s moves to widen the scope of crimes that underlie eligibility in accessing an MSIC.  MSIC are meant to be anti-terrorism security cards and were originally aimed at that end.  The extension of the scope of MSIC potentially threatens the livelihood of members who have previously committed relatively minor offences and who have made amends for their indiscretions.  MSIC should not be crime cards and this development is seen by the Bulk and General Conference as an incursion into our democratic rights.

Further we note the employers’ support for this move and we demand that any employer who terminates an employee as a result of the new application of MSIC being declined or refused be called upon to pay the highest level of compensation to the employee.

Labour Hire and industry labour pools

The Bulk and General Conference rejects the incursion of labour hire into our industry.  We support direct employment by employers or preferably employment on an industry-wide basis via an agreed pooled system of labour supply.  We call on all negotiators to consistently raise the demand for industry labour pools and inter-company hire arrangements in all ports.


The Bulk and General Conference supports the ongoing work of the MUA and other unions in maintaining and strengthening engagement with Australia’s Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders.

The work of the union with various communities in the form of social compacts is commended and encouraged by conference.  The continued work in opposition to the NT intervention (invasion) is likewise supported and conference calls for this work to be maintained and encouraged.  Further we support ongoing rank and file participation in these campaigns.

Conference supports the union’s campaign to involve branches in the development of an MUA National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander committee.

White Ribbon Day

The Bulk and General Conference supports the MUA’s ongoing commitment to the White Ribbon campaign and promotion of White Ribbon Day activities.  Conference remains vigilant and declares all participants will NOT BE SILENT about violence towards women and NOT BE VIOLENT toward women and will promote White Ribbon Day activities in our ports and workplaces.

Union Density

The Bulk and General Conference declares that it is unacceptable to work in our industry and not be a part of the union.  100% union density remains our goal and we will continue to strive to win all workers to union membership and the enormous benefits that unions bring to workers and the community.

100% union density protects all workers in the industry and protects our families from the incursions of the employer who will continue to seek to break down union power in the workplace.  We resolve to bring all our workplaces to 100% membership and 100% financiality.

OHS training providers

The Bulk and General Conference highlights the importance of maintaining union-friendly OHS training providers that will ensure that the rights of workers and their representatives are fully embraced during training sessions on OHS matters.  We call on branches and the National Office to push for union-friendly training providers on all OHS matters.

Union Inductions 

The Bulk and General Conference highlights the need for all workers joining the industry to have union inductions.  This should be an entitlement in all agreements.


The Bulk and General Conference supports the training initiatives of the MUA and the METL venture.  We support the inclusion of METL as a component of all future negotiations and support the demand that employers pay a levy into METL that will allow increased training in all areas for maritime workers.

Gear Bulk

The Bulk and General Conference calls on the leadership of the union to establish dialogue with gear bulk shipping to develop safety guidance material for manning – particularly involving the hatch person / cargo space lookout and his/hers functions.

Drug and Alcohol

The Bulk and General Conference resolves that the introduction of unintrusive impairment-based testing be made a priority in future bargaining.

Hatchperson /Cargo Space Lookout

The Bulk and General Conference highlights the absolute necessity for a hatchperson/cargo space lookout to be present for all bulk and general stevedoring operations.  Safety is our absolute priority and we refuse to have the de-manning policies of the employers and shipping companies and representatives impacting on the safe operations and the health and safety of both crew and waterside workers. Conference calls upon all levels of the union to wage a campaign to ensure that the hatchperson/cargo space lookout is present and supported in manning arrangements of stevedores. 

Offshore Vessel Coverage by AMSA

The Bulk and General Conference calls for all offshore oil and gas vessels to apply to AMSA for a declaration that the Act will apply to that vessel.

Health & Safety Representative

The Bulk and General Conference calls for each branch to have a designated Health and Safety Representative Support Officer to assist delegates/HSRs on the job.