Delays grow at Australia’s ports as MUA extends its industrial action against DP World

A 24-hour strike was launched by stevedores on Friday October 27th at Port Botany, Sydney, which is one of Australia’s busiest container terminals. The dockworkers announced plans to step up their actions, which are part of an ongoing dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and terminal operator DP World at each of the country’s major ports.

The MUA is calling for a better than a 7% wage increase. The MUA is also focusing on scheduling and a better work-life balance. It contends that, as part of the proposed wage increase, DP World is proposing work schedule rule changes and adjustments to the scheduling system that would mean that nearly a third for dockworkers would be earning less.

DP World says that the changes are needed to provide greater flexibility and the ability to respond to the needs of carriers.

Port Botany handles some 3m teus a year. The port has 12 container vessel berths, split between terminal operators DP World, Patrick Terminals, and Hutchison Ports.

Workers for 24 hours refused to load and unload trucks and trains at DP World’s facilities.

The Australia coastwide labour unrest has been running for a month and has included a 48-hour weekend full stoppage in Fremantle and a 44-hour stoppage in Melbourne, both at the beginning of the month. Mid-month there was a stoppage at Port Botany. Between October 30 and November 6, the MUA is reporting that work bans will be in effect for overtime, shift extensions, and other jobs at DP World’s terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Fremantle, and Brisbane. Next Monday they also plan to stop work for 24 hours in Sydney, as well as a ban on loading and unloading on Friday, November 3rd at all the ports. There will be sporadic work stoppages ranging from one to two hours at some of the ports during the week.

While issues relating to cash-on-table can usually be solved, eventually, there appears to be a global systemic drifting apart between port workers and owners, who are frequently based in other countries, based on a completely different worldview on the relation between the operator and the worker – much of which is based on the philosophy of work and “work-life balance”.

In Australia both sides are accusing the other of not negotiating in good faith. DP World will not even talk so long as industrial actions continue, while the MUA says the actions will continue until DP World resumes negotiations.

The MUA is calling for good faith bargaining, a fair wage outcome, work schedules, and scheduling systems that provide certainty, mitigate fatigue, and maintain the work-life balance.