Work Stoppages Grow at DP Australia Terminals as MUA Pay Dispute Escalates
Work at the terminals operated by DP World in Australia’s four largest ports ground to a halt on Friday, January 12, with the expectation that the dispute is likely to further escalate in the coming weeks. The Maritime Union of Australia, which has been without a contract since October 2023, won new rights to strike from Australia’s labor regulators after three days of talks to break the impasse collapsed overnight and left shippers and carriers calling for the government to intervene.
Both sides are accusing the other of elevating the dispute after 10 months of negotiations and nearly four months without a contract. DP World operates terminals in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, and Fremantle which collectively handle approximately 40 percent of Australia’s cargo volume. The company rivals Patrick, the country’s other large terminal operator.
Dockworkers walked off the job entirely at the terminals in Sydney, Brisbane, and Freemantle on Friday with only a small staff at the Melbourne terminal. This came after DP World announced plans to dock workers’ full pay starting on Friday if they took part in any industrial action. The company is also suspending pay for workers on leave and other steps in a move management told the media was designed to signal the time has come to settle the contract negotiations.
The MUA, however, is accusing DP World of not negotiating in good faith and took a new claim to Australia’s Fair Work Commission seeking to expand its job actions. The union has been staging rolling job actions across the four terminals and certain work rule limits such as refusing overtime since October 2023. They contend they started the negotiations in March 2023 in good faith.
DP World contends that the MUA is not willing to budge from its demands for a 27.5 percent pay increase over three years and is opposing work rule changes to reflect the changing business climate. The union counters that members are receiving 17 percent less pay than comparable jobs at Patrick’s terminals.
The Fair Work Commission on Friday however ruled in favor of the MUA. They said with five days’ notice the union can stop work for up to 16 hours. The MUA suspended plans for weekend job actions but has already scheduled work stoppage next week at all four of the terminals.
Maersk informed customers that it expects work stoppages in Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne next week warning of further delays beyond the port congestion already experienced around Australia. Earlier in the week, Maersk reported an extra loader, Merkur Horizon (4,300 TEU) put on the run to help with the backlogs, would be forced to omit a call at Sydney instead of discharging its cargo at the end of next week in Melbourne, instead of an earlier plan to offload Sydney cargo in Brisbane. They still plan to make the Brisbane call but now expect to transload the boxes booked for Sydney to one of three vessels, Christa Schulte, Prestige, or CMA CGM Tancredi, for Sydney discharge. They did not report the length of the delay for these shipments.
DP World acknowledged the decision of the labor regulators saying that it believes “government intervention is essential to break the deadlock.” The union says it will not be bullied into an agreement.
Frustrated by months of delays and the prospects of a worsening situation, Shipping Australia which represents shipowners, operators, and agents, called on the federal government’s Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke to step in and use his legal authority to resolve the dispute. The Australian Logistics Council also added its voice calling for government action. Even the opposition government is also calling on the elected leaders to use their authority under the Fair Work Act to force the Fair Work Commission to intervene.