Global union federations the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) and IndustriALL Global Union have put Port Waratah Coal Services (PWCS) – a major coal exporter based in Australia’s Port of Newcastle – on notice that its drastic failure to consult its workforce is being watched around the world. The company is currently being targeted with action following its attempts to dramatically alter working agreements.
PWCS coal export operations at the port are among the largest in the world, and have significantly increased in tonnage and profitability over the last five years. Workers are represented by a five union strong single bargaining unit (SBU) – which includes two ITF affiliates, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Transport Workers Union of Australia (TWU), and three IndustriALL affiliates, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union (AMWU), the Australian Workers’ Union (AWU) and the Electrical Trades Union (ETU, part of CEPU). Since negotiations for a new enterprise agreement began in August last year there have been over 50 meetings with management.
The bargaining has been marred by management intransigence and aggressive anti-union tactics including a removal from the agreement of any mention of trade unions and a serious weakening of workers’ rights. Equally unacceptable and disruptive has been management’s attempts to input into the agreement more outsourcing of the workforce and weaken the permanent employment relationship of workers.
ITF president and MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin explained: “Workers at PWCS have consistently delivered increased productivity. However the company has now been ideologically driven to demand more flexibility without negotiation with the unions. At the same time it has attempted to remove all mention of unions and rights to fair dispute resolution from its agreement in an attempt to break the unions at the site.
“Workers at PWCS have voted to take protected industrial action. Meanwhile the SBU is committed to pursuing a negotiated outcome that provides job security and the necessary protections to employees. We therefore call on PWCS, Rio Tinto and the coal companies who use the port to demonstrate their commitment to negotiating a collective agreement that provides for job security and rights to union protection.”
He concluded: “We will not stand by and let PWCS attack union members and their families. The ITF and its affiliates are closely watching the progress of this dispute and are ready to mobilise ourworldwide resources to achieve a fair resolution of this dispute.”
Writing to the members of the single bargaining unit at PWCS, IndustriALL general secretary Jyrki Raina commented: “The behaviour of PWCS is totally unacceptable and borders on an ideological obsession to eliminate trade unions at the workplace. Their brazen and open anti-union position is evident by seeking to remove from the enterprise agreement all references to unions, the rights to fair dispute resolution, the undermining of permanent jobs via relaxing the contractor’s clause and the demand for more individual flexibility.”
He added: “These union busting tactics have become a Rio Tinto trade mark and only international solidarity has managed to push back these anti-union behaviour and tactics.”
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