Tricky Patrick's Tries To Use Corporate Veil To Foist Automation On Its Workers

The Maritime Union of Australia will today withdraw its current application to the Federal Court of Australia for legal remedy regarding Patrick Stevedores’ alleged breach of the Port Botany enterprise bargaining agreement.

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MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin

MUA National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin, said Patrick’s was hiding behind its complex corporate structure to avoid its obligations to its workers.

“This is just looks like, smells like and tastes like legal obfuscation from Patrick’s,” Mr Crumlin said.

“Patrick’s apparently are attempting to use their byzantine corporate structure to argue that the employer of the workers is a different entity to the company that made the decision to automate. As a result, they claim they had no responsibility totable the plan during the negotiations or before the agreement entered intoforce.

“Their argument is basically: tough luck, you’ve got no remedy regarding breach of an agreement because the Patrick’s you negotiated in good faith with is ‘independent’ from the other Patrick’s company, despite them both being wholly owned by Asciano.

“It smacks of the 1998 corporate dissembling – Patrick’s is making the same old arguments about corporate structure to try and tie their workers’ representative, the MUA, up in expensive, protracted legal proceedings.

“Anyone who claims the IR pendulum has swung too far to the workers is kidding themselves. It is extremely difficult and expensive for workers to seek legal redress where a big employer like Patrick’s decides to halve its workforce and replace them with machines in breach of an agreement to consult with its workers.

“Patrick’s lack of corporate transparency, its lack of good faith bargaining and its lack of respect for its workers and their families is a disgrace. There are 450 workers out there at Port Botany who don’t know whether they’re going to have a job once those machines come in.”

Legal proceedings in the Federal Court were initiated by the MUA in September 2012 alleging Patricks breached its agreement with its workforce by forcing automation on workers without consultation, as required by the enterprise bargaining agreement.

In October 2012 the MUA also filed a dispute application in the Fair Work Commission (previously Fair Work Australia) seeking a determination that Patrick's had not correctly applied the consultation clause in the EBA.

The MUA is withdrawing the Federal Court proceedings to concentrate on the consultation now being undertaken in the Fair Work Commission but does not rule out filing new proceedings in the Federal Court.

Patrick and the MUA signed an EBA in June last year, after almost two years of negotiations, and within days of the EBA being approved by the Commission, Asciano CEO John Mullen announced the proposal for automation at the Port Botany terminal which would result in job losses of up for 260 employees.  

Asciano’s CEO, John Mullen, revealed during a televised interview (Inside Business, ABC TV, 22 July 2012) that the company knew a decision to automate was forthcoming during the EBA negotiations. However, Patrick’s stated to the MUA during the negotiations that automation was not on the cards.