20 January 2016
by Ewin Hanann

Waterfront workers want $1000 for Sunday shifts

Waterfront workers are seeking $1000 for working a single eight-hour shift on a Sunday under a union claim being resisted by stevedore Patrick.

The company said on Tuesday that it would consider seeking the intervention of the Turnbull government if its dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia escalated beyond further strikes scheduled for next week.

Patrick applied to the Fair Work Commission late on Tuesday to have next week's strikes stopped pending further negotiations with the union. The application will be heard on Thursday.

According to Patrick's analysis of the union's log of claims, the union is seeking a $285 increase in the amount paid to Port Botany stevedores who work an eight-hour shift on a Sunday.

Patrick said granting the claim would result in a Port Botany stevedore receiving $995 for a single Sunday shift.

Following this week's first national stoppage at Patrick since the acrimonious waterfront dispute in 1998, the union is proposing 48 hours of stoppages at Port Botany from next Monday. along with four-hour stoppages in Melbourne and Brisbane.

Patrick executive Alex Badenoch said on Tuesday that the Sunday shift claim showed the union was pursuing "very unreasonable claims" against the company.

Ms Badenoch said the company would continue to try for a negotiated settlement of the dispute and was prepared, if required, to subject itself to arbitration before the commission.

She said Patrick would consider seeking the intervention of the government if the industrial action continued and the dispute was unresolved.

But Employment Minister Michaelia Cash said on Tuesday that enterprise bargaining negotiations were conducted between employers and employee representatives and were "a matter for them".

"It is in the best interests of employees, employers and all Australians to ensure that pay claims remain realistic and maintain Australia's competitiveness and productivity," she said.

The company claims that delivering on the union's log of claims would result in a 53 per cent increase in its labour costs.

But Will Tracey, the union's deputy national secretary, said on Tuesday that the company's claim was "overblown".

Mr Tracey played down the commercial impact of the union's industrial action and argued there was no justification for the government intervening in the dispute.

"It is a simple fact that the strike did not shut down the ports," he said.

"Patrick does not have a monopoly on container terminals and ships generally have the capacity to subcontract to another stevedore if need be, which they regularly do."

He said Patrick regularly subcontracted vessels to Hutchison during its automation restructure last year in Port Botany.

"Therefore, there is no need for the Turnbull government to intervene in this protected action, sanctioned by the Fair Work Commission." he said.

He said the negotiations with Patrick, owned by the ASX-listed Asciano, had been protracted because the company refused to enshrine job security and permanency in their enterprise agreement at a time when it was seeking to sell the company.

Canada's Brookfield Infrastructure made a $9 billion offer for Asciano in August last year, an offer matched by a consortium that includes Qube Logistics, chaired by Chris Corrigan.

Mr Tracey said the industrial action was taken as a last resort because the company cancelled meetings "after a period of obfuscation and belligerent obstruction".

"The union is looking for assurances that the workers will not be used as cannon fodder so that Asciano can look more appealing to shareholders and its potential buyer," he said.