Waterfront operator Patrick Stevedores has been secretly handed $18.5 million to compensate for disruptions caused by the expansion of the Port of Melbourne, State political editor for the Age, Josh Gordon reports.
The Maritime Union of Australia is furious, claiming the secret deal underpins a taxpayer-funded push to casualise the port workforce.
In a report to the Australian stock exchange, Patrick's parent company, Asciano, last week confirmed it had received the payment because of the early termination of its lease at Webb Dock, an area of the port that is being redeveloped.
Patrick has already announced that as part of the redevelopment it will be offering redundancies to its 260-strong stevedoring workforce. The union says 80 jobs are likely to be lost with 73 per cent of the remaining workforce being employed as casuals.
In a leaflet for members, the MUA said the move was a repeat of the 1998 waterfront dispute, calling it a publicly funded payout ''negotiated in a dodgy backroom deal with the state Coalition government and port corporation''.
MUA assistant secretary Ian Bray said it was disgraceful that the state government had refused to reveal the size of the payout, with the money transferred directly to shareholders rather than being used to retain staff.
''If Patrick gets its way, three out of four workers at … Webb Dock will have to sit by the phone to be told two hours before a shift that they will be required, and there will be different start times for shifts each day,'' Mr Bray said.
The state government is keen to avoid inflaming the situation. Ports Minister David Hodgett said the payment was a commercial settlement between the Port of Melbourne and Asciano.
''Matters between the Maritime Union of Australia members and Asciano are best resolved between the two parties,'' he said.
Port of Melbourne spokesman Peter Harry said the payment was settlement for the early termination of Patrick's lease.
Asciano declined to comment, with a spokesman referring The Age to a footnote in the company's report to the stock exchange.
Original Source: The Age