Asia Pacific Labor Unions Collaborate on Safety Concerns

file photo
file photo

Published Nov 8, 2018 8:31 PM by The Maritime Executive

Labor unions representing workers across Hutchison Port’s terminal operations have come formed a regional safety committee to combat what they claim is the company’s poor safety record in the Asia Pacific. The unions involved include Serikat Pekerja – JICT in Indonesia, South Asia Port Terminal Democratic Worker’s Union in Pakistan and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

“Wherever we are located, the value of our lives is the same, and Hutchison Ports must elevate their safety standards to the highest international standards,” said the MUA in a statement. The union says there has been too many fatalities and serious incidents at Hutchison operations with at least six fatalities and many other serious incidents over the last two years in terminals in the three countries. 

Suryansyah Deputy President from JICT terminal in Jakarta cites the death of four workers in less than 18 months. “We have to fight for the basic right of safety for workers.”

Umer Farooq Finance Secretary from South Asia Port Terminal Democratic Worker’s Union in Pakistan said “We are not machines... When we work we don’t get safety boots or uniforms, and it’s all about work fast, but we care about our safety.”

Bob Carnegie, MUA Queensland Branch Secretary said “Hutchison Ports, the largest Port operator in the world, has perhaps the worst safety record and the most exploitative working model of all major terminal operators. It is a system which maximizes hours, minimizes breaks, creates fear and uncertainty amongst the workforce. The Queensland branch hopes this is the start of bringing dock workers in our region closer together under the most important banners of safety and solidarity.”

All three unions are currently bargaining agreements with Hutchison Ports to improve safety. 

Union disputes with the port operator have been on-going in Australia. Earlier this year, Australia's Fair Work Ombudsman lost its bid for a record fine against the MUA over the union's 2015 Hutchison strike. The fine of over A$3.5 million ($2.5 million) was for what it said were illegal strikes in Sydney and Brisbane that allegedly caused Hutchison Ports more than A$600,000 ($435,000) in losses. Federal Court Justice Jayne Jagot instead imposed a fine of A$38,000 ($27,500). 

The strikes were in response to its retrenchment of almost 100 workers by text message. The MUA argued the redundancies were a "union busting" bid to introduce automation by stealth and ultimately succeeded in getting Hutchison to withdraw the job cuts in favor of voluntary redundancies and extra redundancy pay.

The judge rejected the Fair Work Ombudsman's argument that because the MUA had previous fines for industrial action, the court should assess the strike as separate contraventions over 278 shifts, rather than as a single course of conduct. The judge also refused the Fair Work Ombudsman's bid for the MUA to pay Hutchison A$620,217 in damages.

In October, Hutchison Ports Australia proposed a 12-month pay freeze, longer working hours, more outsourcing and increased automation. The operator and the MUA are currently in discussion over the proposals.