Wharfies Strike Over Poor Safety

[First published in WA Today 11th December 2011]

More than 150 wharfies have gone on strike at Western Australia's busiest ports, mainly over concerns that a poor safety regime will lead to deaths on the waterfront.

Maritime Union of Australia Western Australia branch secretary Chris Cain said up to 200 wharfies at Fremantle, Port Hedland and Bunbury ports had downed tools on Saturday over safety concerns.

They are also seeking an annual pay rise of six per cent over three years.

Mr Cain said the wharfies, employed by Sydney-based stevedoring company POAGS, would remain on strike until Tuesday.

POAGS had appealed to Fair Work Australia to try to prevent the strike, but that was rejected, so the workers had a legal right to take the action, Mr Cain said.

POAGS had told the union on Friday that it would lock out the workers on Tuesday if they took industrial action over the weekend, he said.

Mr Cain said the main concern at the Fremantle, Port Hedland and Bunbury ports was safety, given workers were battling with "antiquated gear".

Two POAGS workers were killed last year while on the job. One was a 41-year-old father-of-two struck by a falling steel beam at Appleton Dock in Melbourne.

Mr Cain said workers were concerned there would be more deaths on POAGS sites if the company's safety regime was not improved.

The union wants more training, newer equipment, a safety facilitator at the ports and an open dialogue with POAGS management about safety.

"We should be working together to make sure there are no deaths, no near-misses and no more people on workers' compensation with injuries (incurred) whilst at work," Mr Cain said.

At Fremantle port, nearly a third of the POAGS workforce were currently on workers' compensation but POAGS had "just been stalling, stalling, stalling", he said.

"So we've got no apologies to make to POAGS and we're determined to get an outcome."

POAGS was not immediately available for comment.

Separately, a four-day, pay-related strike planned by 24 vessel traffic officers and pilot boat crews at Fremantle Port has been averted after a last-minute compromise agreement was reached with the facility's operators, Fremantle Ports.

MUA WA assistant branch secretary Will Tracey said the action, which had been due to start on Saturday, was called off after the union reached an "in principle" agreement with Fremantle Ports for a pay rise of between five and six per cent a year over four years.

"It's a pretty good common sense outcome, so we're pretty happy with the result," Mr Tracey said.

He said the new pay deal was being drafted and should be finalised in the coming week.