Logging On

2011 presents opportunities as well as problems for MUA members and the union must continue to work hard to secure and build on our industrial, political and economic rights.

ABOVE GROUND

Paddy Crumlin with Andy Honeysett, (President, NSW South Western District, CFMEU mining and energy division), mine workers’ delegate Jeff Madden and Dave Noonan (National Secretary, CFMEU Construction and General Division) emerge from the Centennial underground mine in Lithgow after talking to miners below. With tragic irony the solidarity visit fell on the same day as the Pike River mine disaster in New Zealand in November which and the loss of 29 miners. Photo by Wayne McAndrew, Vice President, CFMEU Mining & Energy Division.

CHALLENGING TIMES

2011 presents opportunities as well as problems for MUA members and the union must continue to work hard to secure and build on our industrial, political and economic rights.

The shipping reform agenda will be either realised or postponed this year. Certain political self-interest groups continue to peddle the distortion that the national interest can be served without a viable and sustainable merchant navy. This line is given constant ventilation by the Murdoch press, particularly The Australian. Their arguments have been one sided and the reporting disgracefully partisan.

It is an argument in favour of markets and their need to be free of direction or responsibility. The mantra is that an efficient and properly regulated domestic shipping sector, integrated with road and rail into a complete transport service, amounts to protectionism.

That argument is never reinforced by a proper analysis of the Gillard Government’s shipping policy which provides for sustainable, fair and efficient services benefitting Australia’s long term interests – as against those of the international shipping industry who lobby hard to preserve their low labour standards and ability to operate outside of Australian law.

Their proposterous notion that our economic future should rely on those exemptions and still build consistent, safe and financially reliable shipping services, skills and infrastructure in a domestic economy driven by the need to integrate trade between Australian ports.

The broad shipping industry here including shippers, Australian ship owners and unions are in support of the Gillard initiative – a fact that fails to get reported. After a full year of union bashing and their unapologetic promotion of their ‘market-based’ and conservative political values, the Murdoch editors continue to aggressively represent an advocacy in denial of a balance and constructive journalistic code. The MUA remains one of their top industrial targets, which we accept as a great tribute from one the main promoters of the Tea Party in the US and a long line of other flawed and elitist political movements reaching right back to Thatcher in the UK. We are supposed to accept that free market bankers and financial institutions – and media and entertainment megalomaniacs – remain the solution for the future of a world brought to its economic knees by those same arguments and organisations.

The politics behind the delivery of the legislation supporting the shipping policy look difficult. The minority government will place great weight on the independents in the lower house to act with responsibility and maturity in delivering this key plank of national economic development.

The Senate looks less problematic with already strong support from the Greens for a sustainable shipping industry as outlined by the minister for transport Anthony Albanese. A further round of industry consultations is taking place with a view to drafting legislation in the second half of this year. All industry stakeholders are involved including maritime unions. In an industry seriously damaged by the negligence and ignorance of Howard government policies over a long time, it will be important for all to hold fast against the bushwackers and carpetbaggers out there peddling the doggerel of their opposition.

STEVEDORE FAILURE GALORE

Patrick Bulk and General’s refusal to meet their responsibilities to their long-term workforce and the wider response by other stevedores in this year of bargaining rounds will be one of the big challenges. The bulk and general industry has casualisation running at nearly 60 per cent, with many workers employed under those temporary conditions for years. Ringing up cap in hand every time you need work and then being kept on an employer’s string is a process designed for another stevedoring era called the bull system. Employers use the procedure not only to minimise their obligations to their workers but also to stand over them with a threat of no further work if they don’t hold their heads right.

The suitcase stevedores setting up with a casual workforce, a roll of dunny paper and an overdraft are part of the problem as well. It is no coincidence that the majority of stevedoring workers killed and badly injured come from this section of the industry. Paying lip service to training without proper competency-based structures is a key characteristic of this employment short cut.

The terminal enterprises fare little better in this area. Training has been reduced to a force feed approach with minimal infrastructure or professional training institutions. It can be an afterthought sandwiched into slow shifts or second-rate machinery. There is not one stevedoring machinery simulator in the country whether for cranes, straddles, gantries or forks. It is a shabby and second-rate commitment to OH&S and workforce development, an impediment to productivity and an unacceptable risk to workers and their families. And it will sorted out this year one way or another.

PROUD TO BE UNION

The response by the union and its members to the devastating floods in Queensland was immediate and wonderfully generous. Many of our friends in the Dockers and other sections of the ITF have generously responded as well.

In a country where we are used to to the mewling, carping and puerile politics of division and self interest the national response comes as a breath of fresh air – and as an absolute necessity to the beleaguered and distraught families and individuals so devastatingly affected.

The ability to reach out to those in need has been one of the first tenets of the Australian character and the union looks forward to those values regaining their proper status in a country brought low in recent years by politicians and others wedded to the formula of division and dysfunction to realise their political and economic power. Our union and our movement generally have shown again that not only did we never depart from the principle of a fair go for all; we remain as committed as ever.

The tragedy and the long process required to rebuild will help focus all of us on the type of political and community leadership that is essential to the quality of all our lives.

AFTER THE DELUGE

When the floods hit Queensland, donations and well wishes flooded into the MUA national office from around the country and abroad. The union quickly set up a special fundraising account with the credit union, with other funds going directly to the Qld premiers fundraising account.

As of today donations already totalled more than $200,000. MUA National office and branches donated $35,000; DP World and Patrick committees at Port Botany pledged $15,000 each from their rolling funds and members were contributing an initial levy of $100 per person. Sydney branch had called on all members to contribute a $100 levy while DP World Fremantle site committee donated $5000 and asked the employer to match it. Mackay/Hay point tug members had also raised $4,000. Internationally the appeal was being publicised on the ITF, RMT, MUNZ and ILWU websites with all contributing, Other ACTU affiliates have raised more than $400,000.

Donations are being directed through the MUA Relief Fund and other Relief Funds as determined by the members concerned.