Svitzer Tugs' employer militancy triggers further industrial conflict throughout Australian ports

Published: 20 Oct 2022

21 OCTOBER 2022
Despite loyal and diligent service during recent supply chain crises, maritime workers employed by Svitzer Tugs around Australia have had a pay-freeze since early 2019, while negotiations for a new enterprise agreement were put on indefinite hiatus by management during the COVID pandemic.
Now, more than three years since their last pay rise, Svitzer’s employees will take industrial action against the company – which is wholly owned by the massive multinational shipping conglomerate, AP Moller-Maersk – whose management refuses to finalise a new agreement with the workforce.
AP Moller-Maersk, which is the second largest shipping company in the world, posted a $22 billion profit last year, while Svitzer Australia, its towage subsidiary, generated more than $360 million in revenue in the 2019-20 financial year.
"Svitzer only paid 1.9 cents of tax on each dollar of revenue. This isn’t about profit and loss for a struggling Australian company, rather it is about how much money a subsidiary of Danish-owned behemoth AP Moller-Maersk can strip from our workers and send back overseas,” said Jamie Newlyn, the Assistant National Secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia.
“To boost their already eye-watering profits, they are refusing to negotiate in good faith with their workforce and thumbing their noses at the Australian community,” Mr Newlyn said. “We have spent the last 12 months asking these corporate cowboys to bargain in good faith, to pay their workforce fairly, but they continue their tactics of delay, distraction and misinformation,” he added.
In an exercise of brinkmanship, the company continues its application to terminate the enterprise agreement and throw its entire seagoing workforce back on to the antiquated Award, which would cut the pay of their employees by up to 47%.
“Svitzer makes a mockery of the bargaining process by making unreasonable, ideological demands that undermine many years of negotiated positions which we consider essential for our members’ job security, workplace safety and quality of life,” Mr Newlyn said.
The company wants to remove clauses which provide permanency and job security in order to move to a more casualised, on-call arrangement for the 500 workers nationwide who already provide towage services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
At today’s negotiation it became clear the company is determined to put up further roadblocks to an amicable resolution to the now years-long dispute.
“This is a company that has cynically used the COVID crisis to avoid negotiating a new agreement with its workforce, and in so doing has effectively delivered them a three year wage freeze. At the same time, due to COVID, maritime companies have reaped record profits, in the realm of tens of billions of dollars, through cartel conduct. The least this company can do is finalise a fair agreement with its workforce and stop abusing the Australian industrial relations framework to further delay and dilute the outcome our members deserve,” Mr Newlyn said.
Svitzer tug crews were lauded in recent months as heroes throughout the Australian community for their efforts in saving the crew of the stricken Portland Bay cargo ship, near the Royal National Park, in extreme weather conditions.
"This company basked in the glow of positive press earned through a heroic, selfless and skilled rescue performed by their tugboat crews, but now, some months later, Svitzer bosses continue with their campaign to slash the wages and conditions of their hero workforce,” Mr Newlyn said. "These ideological attacks by Svitzer on their workforce are morally bankrupt and have no place in the Australian maritime sector," he added.
The Union has provided notice to the company of its intention to take lawful industrial action next week on 26 October under S. 414(2)(b) of the Fair Work Act 2009. The workforce will engage in a 4 hour stoppage across the middle of the day at ports in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia and Western Australia.


Authorised by P Crumlin, Maritime Union of Australia, Sydney