Patrick Terminals Moves to End its Labor Contract With Longshoremen

New equipment arrives at Patrick Terminals' facility in Sydney, Jan. 18 (Patrick Terminals)

Published Jan 20, 2022 4:58 PM by The Maritime Executive

Tensions between Australian dockers and ports operator Patrick Terminals are on the rise again after Patrick filed to terminate its contract with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which represents Patrick's employees on the waterfront. Following through on an action expected since last week, Patrick has formally applied to Australia's Fair Work Commission to end its enterprise agreement with the MUA, according to the Australian Council of Trade Unions.

The MUA and the ITF say that canceling the collective agreement would put 1,000 longshoremen in Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Fremantle back on the minimum legally allowable terms for their pay - a wage cut of about 50 percent. In addition, it would end provisions for overtime and night shifts, limiting its members to a 35-hour workweek with regular business hours. This would bring Patrick Terminals' pandemic-era 24/7 surge operations to an end, the MUA says. 

"It is staggering that during an international supply chain crisis where shelves have been stripped bare in supermarkets across Australia, Patrick Terminals is threatening to deepen the crisis by tearing up their industrial agreement with workers who have toiled 24/7 throughout this pandemic to keep their ports moving," said ITF General Secretary Stephen Cotton.

Patrick's application to terminate its workforce enterprise agreement is part of a budding trend in Australian labor relations. Australian airline Qantas, tug operator Svitzer and competing towage provider Smit Lamnalco have all filed similar requests in recent days. 
The MUA and Patrick Terminals have been at loggerheads over the terms of their contract for nearly two years, and the union has periodically carried out rolling labor slowdowns and shut-downs to emphasize its bargaining power. The MUA has already concluded enterprise agreement negotiations with all other Australian container terminal operators, and says that it is asking Patrick for the same terms that its competitors have signed. 

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has threatened to intervene in the labor dispute, and in December he launched a high-level government inquiry into port productivity and competitiveness, pointing to the historical performance metrics at Australia's container ports. According to trade group Shipping Australia Limited and the 2020 IHS Markit / World Bank Container Performance index, Australia's primary container hub at the Port of Melbourne ranks among the slowest-moving boxship ports in the world. However, the MUA points to improvements made over the past year: data from NSW Ports showed an 18 percent increase in throughput at the port over the 12 months ending in September 2021.