Biggest Tugboat operator plans to lock out workers

Photo from the Cairns Post

Contributed from Victoria

Danish tugboat operating company, Svitzer, plans to lock out workers across 17 ports from midday on Friday. The reason is that there is supposed to be negotiation over a new enterprise agreement, sand the company wants to offer as little as possible. The lockout is a tactic to pressure workers to accept what is on offer, at a time when they are most vulnerable.

Operating 100 vessels and providing 50,000 tug movements a year, Svitzer is the largest operator in Australia.

 Photo by Monty Rakusen/Getty: Tugboat crew at work

The move has been so brazen, that is has prompted the Fair Work Commission to warn that the lockout may “threaten to cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it.”

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has proposed that no one should do anything until after Christmas.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke has hit out at the company and accused it of “blackmail” and “economic vandalism.”

A conciliation meeting yesterday (Wednesday) failed to resolve the impasse and the lockout is still being planned.

Unless there is a change of heart, this is a dispute with the potential to become much bigger and translate into a landmark battle between the union movement seeking to bring meaningful change to the industrial relations system, and those seeking to maintain a system that disadvantages unions and workers intact.

A battle on this scale will bring consequences to the economy.

Nevertheless, it would be too important a battle to turn away from. Future wages and working conditions will depend on it. But the matter hasn’t reached this point yet, and it makes sense to pressure Svitzer to pull away from the brink and get into some serious negotiation to work out an agreement that both sides can live with.

If all else fails, we can be sure that most of Australia will be behind the tugboat workers.

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