Scott Morrison wants to take on the Maritime Union

Photo from the Daily Telegraph

Contributed from Victoria

The Morrison government is planning to lift its war against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has ordered the Productivity Commission to produce structural changes that will limit the presence of the union in Australia’s ports.

An ongoing dispute between the MUA and container terminal operator Patrick Terminals is has become the catalyst for the Morrison government’s move. Frydenberg justified this in a statement by suggesting: “The efficiency of Australia’s ports are vital to our economic success.”

Scott Morrison had flagged the move in speech to the Australian Industry Group, a major big business body.

The same company, although then going under the name Patrick Stevedores was central to the attempt to outlaw the MUA 1n 1988. This brought overwhelming community support for the union, with tens of thousands turning up to blockade ports around the country. The attempt failed.

Morrison warned that his government is prepared to move in once again “to protect the Australian economy form serious harm.”

The union has responded by saying that the government is peddling lies.

“For Scott Morrison to join this attack on working people is a disgrace and reflects the fact that his government will never represent working women and men and will always suck up to big business, wealth and international corporate elitism,” national secretary of the MUA, Paddy Crumlin, said.

Photo by Tracey Nearmy/AAP: Paddy Crumlin the National Secretary of the MUA

There is a view that Morrison is trying to stir up a conflict just before Christmas to divert attention from the internal problems of the Liberal Party, the falling legitimacy of the government, and next year’s election.

Morrison is using a  report from the Australian and Competition and Consumer Commission in November, which claims that the MUA is pushing “restrictive work practices.” These are bargaining to include in enterprise agreements cautions on automating jobs, recruitment practices, and workloads. This is about jobs, work safety, and conditions.

Waterfront employers are claiming that inclusion of these matters in enterprise agreements holds back productivity growth. This means, it limits the exploitation of labour. Productivity is the measure of the output of a worker over a given time. Pushing the output up and not rewarding the worker for the extra is profitable.

Productivity raising technology is used to shed jobs on the waterfront, and not to build the economy. It would be much better to use technology to create more work. The actions of the union and its members work to encourage this.

The Morrison government’s tilt at the union may well backfire.

In the meantime, there is a Christmas truce in the Patrick’s dispute. There is no industrial action for now. What will happen next year?

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