Sydney Branch Safety Conference: MUA Members Launch New Safety Offensive

No more deaths on the waterfront. 

That was the clear message coming out of the inaugural Sydney Branch Stevedoring Safety Conference, held on 8-9 November at the MUA Conference Centre, Sydney. 

More than 90 maritime trade unionists attended the landmark event, representing all three container terminals in Sydney. Delegations from Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia travelled to Sydney for the conference, and the branch was humbled to be joined by our close comrades from the Maritime Union of New Zealand and the Hutchison unions in Jakarta and Karachi. 

The event was facilitated by Matt Goodwin whose experience in health and safety and organising assisted in shaping our discussion and debate into strong actions.

Paul McAleer, MUA Sydney Branch Secretary opened the conference, paying tribute to the many members who have lost their lives on the waterfront, which remains one of the Australia’s most dangerous industries.

‘I acknowledge all the wharfies, dockers, longshore workers, port workers, and stevedores who have been injured and killed on the job. I acknowledge those who have died from horrible respiratory diseases like asbestosis and mesothelioma.

‘I acknowledge Nick Fanos, whose tragic death haunts still me many years later, and the devastating impact that his death had on his family and workmates. We pay tribute to all the workers around the world who are killed at work, every minute, of every day.’

McAleer outlined a new safety offensive across the waterfront, enforcing safety through collective member action 

‘We are meeting over these two days to develop our agenda of zero harm. We must take militant action to eliminate deaths and injuries on the waterfront. Delivering safety has always been one of our core principles. We have fought hard, but we must fight harder.’


Over the two days members heard some excellent speakers, including:

  • Warren Smith, MUA Assistant National Secretary outlining the Union’s national direction on safety, including the newly developed MUA Handbook on the National Stevedoring Code of Practice, MO32 changes, and a national rollout of NSCOP to all MUA Branches;
  • Dave Henry, WHS Officer from AMWU, who delivered an informative presentation on workplace investigations and strategies on the job, and also outlined some useful information about diesel fumes and the union’s approach to that issue;
  • Paul Keating, MUA Sydney Assistant Branch Secretary on enforcing safety on the job through identifying issues and developing strategic campaigns that deliver and the importance of the MUA Sydney Branch’s unconditional commitment to support our HSRs in all circumstances which delivers confidence for members to wage initiatives to defend our legal rights without fear;
  • Paul Garrett, MUA Sydney Assistant Branch Secretary on using the WHS Act, legal powers and the tribunals to enforce safety in the workplace; the opportunities in using legislative means to secure safe work outcomes and the importance of fighting for positive changes in these arenas;
  • The launch of a joint initiative of Hutchison unions in our region to join forces and fight for better safety. The original compact signed by Sydney and Jakarta in February 2018 has been extended in the form of a Hutchison Regional Safety Committee, and a formal Port Compact between Jakarta, Karachi, Brisbane and Sydney, with the election of Comrade Surya from Jakarta to the position of International Secretary of the Committee;
  • A report from our comrades in MUNZ on the tragic death of Laboom Dyer in the Port of Auckland recently. Another life tragically cut short in what appears to be preventable circumstances. Members also heard reports about safety throughout New Zealand terminals and the impacts of corporate campaigns to undermine safety throughout the country and the organising efforts to overcome it;
  • Reports from each of the three terminals in Port Botany, including a moving and detailed account of the near fatal straddle incident at Hutchison in April, and the massive 16 day stoppage that followed to simply win safety on the job,
  • An alarming report on crane maintenance at Patrick,
  • The issue of wire rope maintenance at DPW, which has far reaching national and international ramifications; and
  • A report from Dr Eric Lim, the Workers Doctor, who outlined the rights and entitlements of injured workers including RTW process, rehabilitation and compensation. 


On the second day members broke into smaller workshops to address specific topics and develop practical actions in the following areas:

  • Opposing the “Work until it fails” model: maintenance campaign in Port Botany;
  • Fumes and exhaust: health impacts and practical strategies to reduce harm;
  • Qualifications and training;
  • Vessel reporting: a joint campaign on defective ships;
  • International campaigns; and
  • A new MUA Sydney Branch Terminals Committee for Port Botany.


The contributions from members in attendance were outstanding. A comprehensive set of resolutions were developed, which will set a platform for the MUA Sydney Branch over the next year and beyond, and hopefully inspire other maritime union members in Australia and around the world.


The following resolutions were passed unanimously:


Fumes and Exhaust

This conference calls upon the Sydney Branch of the MUA to investigate the illness and disease associated with diesel particulate matter (DPM) and that maritime workers are being diagnosed. This conference further calls upon the MUA Sydney Branch to actively campaign for shore-based-power. We further call upon MUA Sydney Branch to seek National Council Support for a national campaign for shore-based power across Australian ports. We further call upon the MUA Sydney Branch to advocate and agitate for a National Clean Air Agreement and the regulation of diesel-powered plant and machinery within Australian ports. We also call upon the union to seek the introduction of fixed points for atmospheric testing across the three terminals in Port Botany, including inside the cabins of cranes, and to ensure that members have access to quality handheld atmospheric testing units and that concerned members and health and safety representatives can use these at their discretion. We further call upon the Sydney Branch to adopt and implement the DPM exposure template across all three terminals.

Moved: Sean Ambrose

Seconded: Shane Jenkins

Carried unanimously



The members at the inaugural MUA Sydney Branch Safety Conference 2018 hereby urge all DPW terminals to supply documentation confirming correct sized sheeves on all ZPMC cranes supplied since 2010. In addition to confirming correct sheeves, a full rope management plan should be supplied to all relevant OH&S Committees. Rope management plans should include planned maintenance schedules, rope supplier details, rope inspection details, and agreed rope lifespans.

Moved: Craig Sheehan

Seconded: Peter Balzan

Carried unanimously


Work Until it Fails 

We the members attending the Sydney Branch Stevedoring Terminals Safety Conference put the following resolution forward. That the Sydney Branch facilitate the development of a Stevedoring Maintenance Code of Practice and integrate such into the Managing Risks in Stevedoring – Code of Practice. This code should detail the commissioning and preventive maintenance tasks to ensure safe operation and maintenance of equipment used in stevedoring. That the machinery and its servicing complies to all relevant Australian regulations, standards and manufacturers specifications.

Moved: Phil Graham

Seconded: Adam lee

Carried unanimously


Operational Maintenance 

We also call for a campaign to be started in operations, to reintroduce pre-operational checks. We also demand that all service records and defect sheets be tabled at site safety committee meetings, that all defects are tracked to see if repairs have been carried out. A notice board should also be installed in all amenity rooms to show when cranes were last serviced and also when they are next due for service. 

Moved: Ben Roberts

Seconded: Sean Ambrose

Carried unanimously


Port Committee

We the members of the Sydney Branch Stevedoring Terminals Safety Conference resolve to:

Set up a Port Committee for Botany. 

We resolve that the first order of business will be to formulate a constitution for the port committee and coordinate a campaign around wire ropes and sheeves.

We propose that each port, DP World, Patrick, and Hutchison have four members sit on the committee: one from ERC, one from Safety Committee, one rank and filer, and one maintenance; a total of 12 across the three terminals plus an official from the branch.

We resolve a timeframe of two months to report back, elect representatives from ERC and Safety Committee, and have voted on by the workforce.

We further resolve an executive be established for the Port Committee, consisting of a Chair, as Co-chair, a Secretary and a Vice Secretary.

Moved: Graham Boyd

Seconded: Dan Crumlin

Carried unanimously


Mental Health

The members at the inaugural 2018 MUA Sydney Branch Safety Conference declare their support for a coordinated and comprehensive strategy to combat all mental health issues that are affecting not only MUA members and their families, but the wider union movement.

The strategy should include training for members in courses such as First Aid for Mental Health and Accidental Counsellor. We need workers to be better able to acknowledge symptoms and address workmates who are showing signs of struggling with mental health. 

The MUA should take the lead in urging employers to acknowledge mental health as a serious workplace issue. Employers must commit to funding training for awareness, appropriate leave when required, and a range of support services including increased exposure to Hunterlink.

Moved: Adam Lee

Seconded: Dan Crumlin

Carried unanimously


Vessel reporting: joint campaigns on defective vessels

The 2018 MUA Sydney Branch Safety Conference calls on workers in all terminals to establish a standardised vessel in section template that includes notification of the next port of call.

Further, a distribution list of key HSRs in each terminal that are responsible for updating the deficiency register and forwarding information and photos to the local workforce and the next port.

Further, develop a training plan for NSCOP rollout including MO32 with standardised information and education.

Moved: Shane Hamilton

Seconded: Mark Barry

Carried unanimously


Right to strike

The 2018 MUA Sydney Branch Safety Conference resolves as follows:

This conference considers the right to strike a fundamental question of safety. The right to withdraw our labour is our best defence against powerful companies in high risk industries, both in the face of imminent and serious risk, and as a preventative measure. We assert our inalienable right to withdraw our labour when we democratically determine to do so.

Moved: Erima Dall

Seconded: Dan Hanford



This Sydney Branch Terminals Safety Conference calls upon the MUA Sydney Branch to develop a plan to extend the Hutchison Regional Safety committee to DP World, and non-GNT terminals including Patrick.

We call upon the MUA Sydney Branch to invest the finances necessary to ensure that this campaign is successful and to request joint funding arrangements with other MUA Branches and National Office when they extend beyond Sydney.

We call upon all members of the MUA Sydney Branch to support our affiliated unions in the Hutchison Regional Safety Committee by whatever means necessary.

We call upon the MUA Sydney Branch to establish a regional safety network fund whereby wharfies in the MUA Sydney Branch will contribute $1 per week. The fund will be primarily responsible for financing rank and file initiatives to support the regional safety networks. There will be a fund committee whereby there will be 6 elected representatives, two from each terminal one from the ERC and one from WHS, being DP World, Patrick and Hutchison. All monies spent will require the majority endorsement of the Committee and include signatories from at least one representative from each terminal.

All future negotiated MUA Sydney Branch Terminal Stevedoring Enterprise Agreements must include clauses establishing and supporting regional safety networks

Moved: Simon Euers

Seconded: Ryan McGibbon-Thompson

Carried unanimously


Nuclear waste 

The MUA stevedoring safety conference notes:

- The global nuclear industry poses unacceptable threats to the health and safety of workers, communities and the environment. These threats include serious health risks from exposure to radiation and existential risks posed by the threat of nuclear war. Decades of health research has shown that there is no safe dosage of radiation exposure.

- Australia plays a central role in the global nuclear industry, with uranium mining and export operations, an active nuclear reactor at Lucas Heights in Southern Sydney and the import and export of radioactive materials from this facility, including spent nuclear fuel rods through Port Kembla.

- Rural and remote communities, particularly Aboriginal communities, continue to face the imposition of a nuclear waste dump. Any new dump would lead to an increased volume of radioactive materials that need to be handled by transport workers, including maritime workers.

- Education and training for wharfies currently handling radioactive materials, including uranium at Port Adelaide and Darwin and nuclear waste at Port Kembla, is extremely deficient.

This conference resolves:

- We affirm MUA national policy expressing: fundamental opposition to all aspects of the nuclear industry; solidarity with Aboriginal communities facing imposition of a nuclear waste dump on their land and; a commitment to refuse to handle any waste being transported to a new dump.

- We honour generations of resistance to the nuclear industry by Aboriginal peoples and the long traditions of solidarity from our union with this struggle. We call on the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) to ban any work on a nuclear waste dump. 

- We commit to campaigning for and assisting with the development and roll out of education and training packages for members facing the risks of handling radioactive materials.

Moved: Nat Wasley

Seconded: Joe McDonald

Carried unanimously


Stevedoring training and qualifications

The Training and Qualifications Working Group at the 2018 Sydney Branch Stevedoring Safety Conference has identified that different companies in the stevedoring industry are running extremely varied levels of training, ranging from two to fifteen days.

We need to be working to recognised industry standards, with a minimum of two weeks training for all new employees, including maintenance workers. Training facilitators and coordinators must be workers from the floor and have a minimum national qualification of Certificate IV TAE. Workers should have access to use an external RTO with demonstrated industry experience, for example, METTL. New employees should have the option of rotation of duties to decrease repetitive strain injuries and increase opportunities for training in a range of skills. 

We need ongoing communications between terminals and ports to maintain high safety and training standards. We call for a national trainers gathering and regular communication between trainers.

Moved: Daniel Huhu

Seconded: Mick Turnbull

Carried unanimously


Royal Commission into workplace insurers 

This conference call upon the ALP to extend the Royal Commission into Finance and broaden its scope to investigate workers compensation insurers and employers who self-insure and the tactics they use to screw over injured workers and avoid liability. 

Moved: Sean Ambrose 

Seconded: Phil Graham

Carried unanimously


The Sydney Branch conveys its thanks to each and every attendee who participated in the safety conference. It is an important topic: life and death. No worker, anywhere, should be injured or killed at work. The goal of the conference is to unite all wharfies and maintenance workers across the port and across the world, to make sure what happened to Laboom, what happened to Kim, never happens to another wharfie ever again. Now lets get to work!