Delays Grow at Australia’s Ports as MUA Expands Job Action Against DP World
Dockworkers at one of Australia’s busiest container terminals launched a 24-hour work ban on Friday while announcing plans to step up their work bans next week at each of the country’s major ports. The strikes are part of an ongoing labor dispute between the Maritime Union of Australia and terminal operator DP World that minors similar actions that have interrupted port operations in other parts of the world.
The unifying issue that has hit ports around the world and now is at play in the dispute in Australia is wages for the dockworkers that reflect their efforts during the pandemic when they kept global supply chains flowing. The Maritime Union of Australia specifically is calling for a better than seven percent wage increase, while lower than other parts of the world, is still designed to respond to Australia’s inflation rate. It is also similar to the increases awarded to workers earlier this year at Patrick Terminals another of Australia’s largest operators.
In addition to the issue of wages, the MUA like other unions is focused on scheduling and what they call work-life balance. They contend that DP World is proposing work schedule rule changes, and adjustments to the scheduling system, that would result in pay cuts of nearly a third for dockworkers. DP World says the changes are needed to provide greater flexibility and the ability to respond to the needs of carriers.
Friday’s work ban was aimed at Port Botany located in Sydney, Australia’s busiest container port. It handles approximately three million TEUs each year. The port has 12 container vessel berths split between terminal operators DP World, Patrick Terminals, and Hutchison Ports. Workers are refusing for 24 hours to load and unload trucks and trains at DP World’s facilities.
The labor unrest has been ongoing all month. It included a 48-hour weekend full stoppage in Fremantle and a 44-hour stoppage in Melbourne, both at the beginning of the month. Two Fridays ago, there was also 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 3 at all the ports and sporadic work stoppages ranging from one to two hours at some of the ports during the week.
Both sides are accusing the other of not negotiating in good faith, with DP World calling on the union to stop the job actions as a condition for resuming talks. The MUA says the actions will continue until DP World resumes negotiations. Supported by the Australia Council of Trade Unions, 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.
DP World is warning customers that offloading that normally take up to two days can now take up to seven to eight days due to the union having “unleashed delays and disruptions across Australia.” The company in its public statements forecast the actions coming at this time of the year would create an “unsettling impact on the upcoming holiday preparations” for many Australian households.
The union highlights that the membership supported starting the job actions after six months of unproductive discussions with DP World. It is the latest in a series of protected disputes that have impacted port operations in Australia. The union took similar actions against Patrick Terminals and was locked in a multi-year struggle with Svitzer Australia over tug operations that finally ended earlier this year.