Operations at the Victoria International Container Terminal at the Port of Melbourne have been hampered by boycotts for two weeks, despite the Australian Supreme Court ruling the action illegal.
The terminal has been subjected to an estimated $100 million Australian (U.S. $75.2 million) in damages as a result of the picketing, said VICT CEO Ander Dommestrup. As a result, the terminal commenced legal action.
The Supreme Court ordered the original picketer, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), to lift the picket last week but it has continued as a “community protest” with support from other unions including the national construction union, the electrical trades union and Victoria Trades Hall Council, according to local media source the Sydney Morning Herald. VICT is now monitoring the picket line to ensure no MUA members are taking part.
MUA cites substandard wage agreements and violations of workplace rights as the motivator behind the picketing. Union officials also demanded that VICT offer work to an MUA member with a criminal record, which makes it illegal for him to work in the secure areas at the terminal under federal law, said VICT.
MUA Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey told local media source the Sydney Morning Herald that there were 22 workers at the site who did not have a Maritime Security Identification Card to work in a restricted zone and were awaiting processing. Tracey said the MUA was seeking minimum standards for wages and conditions, but the company refused to negotiate with the union.
“VICT is continuing a disturbing recent trend by employers who want to engage in a race to the bottom by accepting a workplace agreement voted on by five staff chosen by the company that slashes penalty rates and casual loading,” Tracey said. “The Port Melbourne community has decided to take a stand against a company with an atrocious labor record around the globe that should not be allowed to operate in this country.”
VICT said in a statement that, “the illegal picketing is damaging Victoria’s reputation as a destination for investment and as a reliable trading partner. The picketing has already cost millions in the first week to exporters, importers, trucking companies, shipping lines, VICT and to Victorians who depend on the reliability of their main port.
“Over 1000 containers, both imports and exports, cannot be moved because of the picket, meaning that a substantial amount of goods required urgently for Victoria’s Christmas trade will never reach the state’s consumers. Our export trade will also suffer a blow equally as home grown products will never reach our important overseas markets,” said VICT.
Russell Zimmerman, of the Australian Retailers Association, told the Sydney Morning Herald that the wharf dispute was threatening the delivery of retail products during the busy Christmas trading period. “Our concern is that there are retailers who will be waiting for product,” he said. “This will disrupt commerce particularly at this time of the year. Coming this close to Christmas, our concern is that there could be gifts or other products that people would be expecting to have in time.”
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