Paul McAleer on 2ue about Patrick Strike Action

STUART BOCKING:               It now looks certain that Asciano's Port Botany container terminal Patrick's set to face strike action from 6AM Wednesday. The branch secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia is Paul McAleer and he's on the line. Paul, good morning.

PAUL MCALEER:                    How are you going?

STUART BOCKING:               I'm well. Is it locked in now, will wharfies walk off the job at 6AM on Wednesday?

PAUL MCALEER:                    That's correct.

STUART BOCKING:               So for 48 hours?

PAUL MCALEER:                    For 48 hours, yep.

STUART BOCKING:               And what's prompted you to finalise because there was some speculation over the weekend but now you've clarified there will be strike action. What's prompted that decision?

PAUL MCALEER:                    Well, as a consequence of the negotiations basically breaking down last week, the MUA put a proposal to the company which was in line with their requests. They put a number of benchmarks on what an agreement would look like and we reached those benchmarks and when we reached them, the company basically changed the goal post and said no, that's no longer the benchmark required for an agreement and as a consequence of that, the wharfies made a decision that the only position left available to them was to take strike action.

STUART BOCKING:               With so much automation on the wharves- now how many people are still employed at that Patrick's terminal?

PAUL MCALEER:                    There's roughly 260 people employed at Port Botany. There used to be 440 ...

STUART BOCKING:               [Talks over] Yeah right, yeah.

PAUL MCALEER:                    ... there's been significant job losses in recent years.

STUART BOCKING:               And that's directly as a result of automation?

PAUL MCALEER:                    Well, as a direct result of automation and the company cutting way too deeply and even they've recognised that they cut way too deeply over 10 months ago now- or 12 months now, where we've had a number of people be re-employed as a consequence of the company's deep cuts.

STUART BOCKING:               Now, how much of this is around these rostering arrangements? Is- are you pushing for more work for wharfies midnight and weekend shifts?

PAUL MCALEER:                    Basically the company came to us at the start of these negotiations 18 months ago and requested that we provide more labour on midnights than weekends and as a consequence of that we said well, we want more job security so we'll trade off additional midnighters and weekends for additional job security and more permanent jobs and that's what we basically proposed. We put that forward, we delivered on the company's needs and they keep- as I said before, they keep changing the goal post and make it impossible for us to reach an agreement.

STUART BOCKING:               Would they- as midnight and weekend shifts, they involve more penalties for your members?

PAUL MCALEER:                    Yeah, that's correct. Obviously no one wants to work at midnight or on the weekends and miss family time, so there are additional penalty rates but what we've basically done is we've increased the amount of midnighters and weekends and reduced the hours for the week by three.

STUART BOCKING:               Can any of us expect job security these days? I mean, people lose jobs sadly every single day, no one's guaranteed a job for life in most pursuits now. Is it reasonable, unreasonable of the union to somehow try and lock a company in to guaranteeing job security for a number of employees?

PAUL MCALEER:                    I think it's absolutely reasonable, I think any worker deserves a decent amount of justice and what we've seen, over recent years, is the whole system, basically, be exposed. I mean, all of worker's job security is being traded away and hoarded in Panama bank accounts. So, it's absolutely reasonable for workers to have job security. I mean, what [indistinct] ...

STUART BOCKING:               [Interrupts] Well, the reality is though, there'd be plenty of people listening right now that would know if their boss rang them tomorrow and said look, come into the office, look unfortunately we're cutting back, we've made your position redundant, whatever it might be, then what do you do? This is what happens, I mean, redundancies across the media have been unbelievable. And you think well, as much as we'd love job security, it's just a dying thing these days and that's the way that the modern workforce has gone for better or for worse.

PAUL MCALEER:                    Well, we know it's for worse and we also know that where job security is available it should be provided and we went through savage redundancy cuts 12 months ago when Patrick's implemented automation. This is not about redundancies. This is about people who ring up every single day to find out what shift they're on the following day. I mean, I don't think that is an incredible luxury. People having to ring up after 2PM to find out whether you're working a day shift, an evening shift or a night shift tomorrow is the least amount of job security that we could provide. So, what we're seeking to do is largely accept the companies claims which are that we live in a 24/7 world now and they do need additional shifts and labour supply on the weekend, we're willing to provide that but it comes at an expense and that is that we have job security.

STUART BOCKING:               Okay and in the meantime the strike action will go ahead from 6 o'clock on Wednesday.

PAUL MCALEER:                    Absolutely. The company's made some scurrilous claims over the weekend. They had a media release by one of their senior industrial relations officers which is just extremist commentary which seeks to increase the hostilities between the workforce and it won't work.

STUART BOCKING:               Alright, we'll talk more. I appreciate your time.

PAUL MCALEER:                    No worries at all.

STUART BOCKING:               Thank you, Paul McAleer from the Maritime Union, back to the bad old days, guaranteeing strike action from six Wednesday.