Action escalates as wharfies push for $119k minimum wage


The wharfies’ union is ramping up industrial action at the Victoria International Container Terminal in Melbourne from later this week.

In addition to a planned four-hour stopped tomorrow from 4-8pm, the Maritime Union of Australia has now instructed members to down tools on at least two more occasions as it fights for a new workplace agreement it says addresses excessive hours and unsafe staffing levels.

In a media statement today, the MUA said notified industrial actions to take place at the VICT terminal at Webb Dock include:

– a 12 hour stoppage from 6pm on Friday, February 19;
– a 36 hour stoppage from 6am on Sunday, February 21; and

– a series of work bans, including on working overtime for one week, the use of personal phones for work purposes, and other specific work tasks.

The MUA said it had written to VICT outlining a proposal to ensure any containers that contain medicines, medical supplies, or urgent medical equipment are exempt from the industrial action.

The union has also committed to exempting all refrigerated containers from the planned industrial action, ensuring agricultural exports, fresh food, and perishable goods are not impacted.

In an effort to reduce any potential impact on third parties, the union said it is also providing extended notice of planned actions to assist the company with making appropriate arrangements for essential goods.

MUA Western Australia Branch Secretary Will Tracey said the workforce had been left with no choice but to escalate industrial action in response to the company’s refusal to address unacceptable and unsafe working conditions at the terminal.

“VICT thinks that just because this container terminal is automated, they can treat workers like robots,” Tracey said.

“Examples of this unsafe and exploitational attitude include workers being pressured not to take breaks during their 12 hour shifts, with many complaining they struggle to eat or use the toilet.

“Many have been required to work huge amounts of overtime — in some cases between 50 and 70 additional 12 hour shifts during the last year — because the company refuses to employ enough people.

“The same inadequate staffing means workers find it extremely difficult to take annual leave, with management telling them it will only be approved if they can convince workmates to undertake overtime shifts to cover them.

“Unlike the machinery they operate, workers have families and life outside of work, and they deserve a workplace agreement that protects their safety and quality of life.”

The Australian Financial Review reports that VICT has offered to significantly increase the pay of the MUA’s core membership, the 65 casual wharfies required to tie up and fasten containers, proposing a 20 per cent wage rise in the first year, 2.5 per cent for the second and 3 per cent for the third and fourth years.

It has also offered to lift pay for the permanent workforce, mostly operating cranes from a control tower, by 11 per cent over four years.

But according to the log of claims seen by The Australian Financial Review, the union wants 3.5 per cent annual pay increases on top of new classifications that would lift the minimum salary by $20,000 to $118,955 and the most senior classification by $10,000 to at least $162,888.

The Victorian Transport Association earlier slammed proposed industrial action at the terminal, saying it would harm Melbourne’s hard-fought reputation as the freight capital of Australia.

“The last thing we need is to tarnish the enviable position Victoria has established for being the nation’s biggest destination for freight. Industrial action like what has been proposed threatens this position and gives importers and exporters cause for sending their goods via other major cities,” said VTA CEO Peter Anderson.

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