Webb Dock battle is a front line in a bigger war to reshape Australian workplaces

volunteering at the Webb Dock Community Assembly
Contributed by Joe Montero

As the battle on Melbourne’s Webb dock over rights at work continues, the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has released a report, which shows that the company calling the shots, has a record of using methods that have embroiled it in industrial disputes around the world.

International Container Terminal Services Inc. (ICTSI) is operating at Webb Dock, through its subsidiary, Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT).

Paddy Crumlin, the President of the ITF said, “ICTSI has imported its anti-worker business model, which has led to protracted disputes and protests around the world, to the Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) terminal at Webb Dock.

“ICTSI’s insistence on bringing its anti-worker business model to Australia is being met with the resistance you would expect from workers’ unions, politicians and the local community with an industrial dispute on the cusp of entering its third week with no end in sight.

“No matter where you look across ICTSI’s global network, there is industrial trouble because the company insists on running an anti-worker, union busting agenda, and no-one wants that at the expense of decent pay, conditions and job security.

“We’ve seen ongoing dramas in Madagascar, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea and the cancer has now spread to Australia. Everyone is awake to ICTSI’s destructive ways and won’t cop it anymore.”

Paddy Crumlin added that VICT publicly alleged that it was “illegal’ for them to employ this worker and that his application for a MSIC card was rejected twice. VICT’s claims are categorically false and this worker was granted a MSIC card on the 8th of December.

“ICTSI is deliberately running smokescreens and we need to focus on the facts. Management deceptively created the cause of this dispute. This dockworker was targeted for being a union delegate, and sacked after trying to raise legitimate concerns with management regarding the bullying and intimidation of workers.”

“It is the broken promises related to permanency and rates of pay, management’s disregard for worker safety by attempting to override safety officers and experienced dockworkers, and the targeting of MUA members that led to this dispute”.

Despite a great deal of disinformation being put through the media, the reality of this dispute is starting to get though. Proof of this is the growing community support for those working at the dock and that Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). A living example of this is the growing community assembly preventing traffic in and out of the dock.

Other unions are starting to stir. A groundswell of support for the MUA and its members is building.

There is a common understanding that this dispute is really a vehicle to attack the union, using a company that has a track record and willingness to play a role as an advance guard for other major, militant employers and the government.

Malcolm Turnbull and his key ministers have been quite open, about their determination to put a stop to the amalgamation of this union, with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia (TCFUA). Last August an amendment to the Fair Work (Registered Organisations Act) was introduced into parliament, which in addition to other measures, contains a provision to deny union amalgamations that fail a “public interest” test, as defined by the government. The government is still trying to push it through.

Resistance to the merger is part of an anti-union barrage, to return to and surpass John Howard’s WorkChoices. The objective is to drastically cut the proportion of national income going to wages and this requires the de-unionisation of the workforce.

This is being nudged along, by the leadership of the Australian Minerals Council and other peak major employer organisations. A number of industrial disputes concerning the same theme of imposing massive wage cuts, ending job security and re-write the rules, shows a determination, to force through the changes they want. And they are using their symbiotic relationship with the government to wage the battle in the political sphere.

What is going on at Webb Dock today is entwined in this bigger war. The company on the other side of the community assembly, is the kind of employer to be used as the front line warier in a battle that is part of a bigger war. This is why this dispute threatens to break out into a larger scale conflict. It it does,  it may well be on the scale of the Patricks war of 1998., where the John Howard government suffered a serious defeat, failed to de-unionise the waterfront and use this to take on the other unions.

No doubt, this defeat will work to dampen the confidence of a government that does not wish to suffer the same fate.  There are also forces pulling the other way. The government’s biggest backers want it to act. The government could use a major diversion form its many other problems and Malcolm Turnbull, undoubtedly wants to save his own neck. The government may not go in indirectly, using something like the claim that its hand is being forced to protect, jobs, investment and an economy in difficult times.

For the affected dock workers and their union the choice is to fight on, or join a slide to the bottom. It applies to all unions, if they want to survive the war being waged against them. Whichever course this takes, we will all be affected.

Australian society is beginning to realise that the unions play an important role in protecting jobs and the health of the economy and must be protected. Australian society is starting to realise that

the Turnbull government has abrogated this responsibility, in its zeal to reward sectional interests. Namely, its backers at the big end of town.










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