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.


News Limited – especially The Australian and the shabby editorialists appointed by the Dirty Digger to feed his ego and megalomania – have been typically the worst offenders. I suppose like many others we perversely wear their ideological hysterics against our activities with a bit of pride. But they’re hard work. The only place we get a run on our side of things is on our own website.

It was a full time job trying to correct or even publicly challenge many of the outrageous assertions getting workshopped up by those roosters at that bastion of objectivity the HR Nicholls Society, a political organisation dedicated to Untruth, Injustice and the Corporate American Way. Ex Labor Party Minister and constant critic of the same party, Peter Walsh, returned off his neo conservative life support system to compare us to the Whitlam Government in the 70s. Thanks for the wrap, but that was nearly 40 years ago, mate. Must have been a traumatic time for him.

The Employer Bias Group, the ACCI got hot and sweaty after a session in the HR Nicholls sauna bath and waded in heavily intoxicated by the prospects of a return to WorkChoices in an election year. Abbot‘s IR spokesman Senator Abetz, not the master of the understatement it seems, doubled our wages overnight, stripped us of all our skills and predicted the end of civilized life as we know it. They made Chicken Little sound like a Trappist monk.

The Australian Shipowners Association, presumably feeling a bit inadequate not having a headline, predicted it would sink the remaining blue water ships, strangely connecting two different industries that have happily lived in coexistence for 40 years with big wage differences, leave systems, working hours and customer markets. And the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers leadership, agreed with all of them, while hastily reassuring their membership that all of the gains won by the MUA would flow on to them. What a gang.

Julia Gillard, the Minister for Industrial relations made a few points about our negotiations and actions being legal and consistent with the Act and coolly encouraged all of the parties to get on with closing an agreement and building a safe and efficient hydrocarbon resource sector. Which we have done.

Ironically she was party to the same information as all of the heaving, sobbing and salivating MUA lynch party, knowing the only truth was that the MUA claim was a catch-up to wages already being paid in the industry. The difference in attitude I guess is she didn’t have any axe to grind with the union and the many workers that rely on our professional industrial advocacy, other than ensuring the Fair Work Bill was not just a name.


Hutchinson has been successful in the tender for the new terminal operation at Botany in NSW. They werealso successful over a year or so ago at Fisherman’s Island in Brisbane, and the weights are going on the Victorian Government to open a third terminal in Melbourne.

It’s a bit confusing why new stevedores are such a priority. Politically the Productivity Commission and the pointy-headed advocates of abstract markets have been huffing and puffing about widening the market and bringing lower costs to port users, but they have little hard evidence that this is the case other than their mathematical algorithms. Outside this academic womb and in a real world, stevedoring productivity relies on long-term commitment to capital expenditure in relationships between stevedores and state providers of infrastructure. This requires a massive capital commitment by the stevedore to terminal enhancement, technology and capacity.

Returns are measured over decades with entry into the market characterised by years of losses before break-even is reached. This will be case with Hutchinson as well. The tendering process has the effect of existing stevedores winding back their expansion and maintenance programs until the market with the new stevedore is properly appraised, a disincentive to productivity. The entry of the new stevedore takes years.

The NSW tendering process in one form or another is already over five years and startup is a further couple of years away. In Melbourne it couldn’t happen before 2017. Together with Port Authorities trying to claw out the cost of dredging and the other infrastructure work required for a new site from existing stevedores this becomes a powerful brake on capital efficiency over a long time. New roads and rail need to be developed to meet intermodal increases in freight forwarding, and the expense of this is far greater in meeting additional business outlets in a port.

Internationally because of this there are usually very few stevedores in any single port. This is the case other than in some mega ports of places like Rotterdam or LA/Long Beach. This makes commercial and public policy sense particularly given the current and ongoing credit squeeze. Look at the problems DPW have in meeting those challenges. Even some of the largest ports like Singapore or Hong Kong are dominated by a single operator and are highly productive. China adopts this model as well. Why the difference here then?

We need a national stevedore policy, and should not leave it to the whims, egos and vagaries of state politics. The Federal Minster for Transport and Infrastructure needs to herd all the cats into one room and one national port policy.


The bullshit of the bosses in the offshore negotiations included their self-denial about the stuff up with maritime training over the last 10 years. And it’s not just restricted to the offshore industry. The stevedoring industry has been woefully neglectful of their responsibilities as well for different reasons. In the offshore it’s as if the rise of the price of hydrocarbons has caught them all with their duds in a ditch. They must have the project management skills of the government of Haiti. You would think that high prices clearly translate into greater drilling, translating into more facilities requiring more workers to build and service when completed.

Perhaps someone forgot these workers don’t grow on Pilbara trees and take years to train. The higher wages being paid to hydrocarbon workers over the last eight to 10 years are testament to a shortage of skilled workers – seafarers being only one small part. The oil majors leave training to the contractors, as they are the employers of labour, and the contractors say they can’t fully make training commitments until the tenders are awarded. So it’s the blame game, with the Australian Mines and Metals Association, those masters of blaming everyone else but themselves, representing both oil majors and contractors. If their intellectual productivity output in this area turned to dynamite they wouldn’t have enough to blow the wax out of their ears.

In stevedoring there are different issues for the same dismal outcome. The casualisation of labour and over-reliance on supplementaryand guaranteed workers has been a disincentive to train to best practice standards. In making it clear what those standards are the MUA is doing an international benchmarking with the cooperation of other dockers’ unions. Simulators, discrete training facilities, agreed modules including theoretical and practical training feature in stevedoring operations across the world, making a clear link between training and the minimisation of accidents both to machinery and goods but most importantly to the workers on those sites. It’s not the case here, and training has slipped to a low point, with little or no designated infrastructure.

Both areas need addressing and it should be noted by all that the MUA takes its role as one of the stakeholders very seriously, and looks forward to working with employers and government on the urgent solutions required.

The blue water shipping industry, labouring under narrow profit margins and high exposure to risk, has been a model of consistency with training, but has been let down by failures to have their commitments properly recognised, including by government. The new shipping reform package needs to address this.

PHOTO: The national secretary and partner Gayle welcomed by the PM and wife Therese at the Australia Day reception, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney.