Tugboat unions will disrupt Australian ports as contract dispute runs on

Three of Australia’s maritime unions threatened to disrupt operations at 10 Australian seaports on Friday August 5th as part of their in their ongoing dispute with Svitzer Towage, a leading tug operator in Australia. Svitzer is part of the Maersk Group. The unions have been without an “enterprise agreement” since their 2016 contract expired in 2019.

The unions, the Maritime Union of Australia, the Australian Institute of Marine & Power Engineers, and the Australian Maritime Officers Union, have met dozens of times with Svitzer Towage during the past three years and at one point reportedly had an agreement in principle, but this later fell through.

Union officials said that the duration and scope of the strikes would be determined at the local level. Workers in Melbourne and Brisbane were scheduled to strike for 24 hours, which was expected to create widespread disruptions in those ports. Workers in the other eight ports involved, at Cairns, Newcastle, Sydney, Port Kembla, Adelaide, Fremantle, Geraldton, and Albany, were expected to stop work for only four hours, from 09:00 to 13:00 local time.

They have promised that tugboat services for naval vessels and cruise ships would continue during the work stoppage.

The MUA has accused Svitzer Towage of failing to negotiate in good faith, while “lodging a laundry list of unreasonable demands, and threatening to slash the pay of its seagoing workforce by almost 50 percent.”

Svitzer said in response that the company had offered to maintain crew salaries and “core” conditions as part of a new contract.

Svitzer Towage claims that the stalemate is over “reasonable productivity improvements” which it said that the unions had refused to consider.

Svitzer Towage wants to abandon the collective bargaining process. Svitzer threatened to seek government approval to end the bargaining process and is set to go before Australia’s Fair Works Commission from today August 8th to make the case to end the enterprise agreement.

MUA’s National Secretary, Paddy Crumlin said that the union was “confident that the Fair Work Commission will look at the reckless and belligerent behaviour of Svitzer throughout this process and respond to the company’s court action appropriately.”