ACCC settles legal action against MUA

 South News, Thursday 3 September


Melbourne:  The country's anti-monopoly watchdog, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) has settled its legal action against the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), finally sealing peace on the Australian waterfront after 10 months of industrial and legal confrontation.

The last hurdle for a settlement of the waterfront dispute was crossed yesterday as the Federal Court endorsed the settlement, enabling more than 600 Patrick stevedores to take redundancy packages from Sunday. The ACCC and the Melbourne Ports Corporation  refused to withdraw legal action for damages against the union which engaged in lengthy industrial action.

With the competition watchdog standing firm on its demand for compensation to businesses hurt by the dispute Patrick Stevedores has agreed to bankroll up to $7.5 million in compensation for businesses damaged during the waterfront dispute.

As part of a settlement which yesterday ended one of the most bitter battles in Australian industrial history, Patrick agreed to a request by the ACCC that it provide $5 million for the Stevedoring Industry Reform Small Business Compensation Fund, with a further $2.5 million to be paid if the company achieved certain profit targets.

The ACCC, headed by Professor Allan Fels, initiated action under secondary boycott laws on behalf of many small companies hurt when cargo lay idle on the docks. The $7.5 million to be paid out by Patrick adds to the more than $20 million in legal and other costs estimated to have been incurred by the company in its controversial attempt to break the MUA's monopoly in stevedoring labour.

Also yesterday, the new enterprise agreement covering Patrick's workforce was certified in the Industrial Relations Commission.Final settlement would ensure that 626 out of the full-time Patrick workforce of 1,400 MUA members formally leave their jobs on Sunday, receiving redundancy payouts funded by the Federal Government.

Up to 100 of these workers would return to Patrick soon after as maintenance workers, resulting in a net loss of 500 full-time jobs.In April, Patrick Stevedores dismissed its union workforce of 1,400 but the wharfies were re-instated after the High Court upheld earlier court orders.

Assistant secretary of the ACTU,  Greg Combet, said the union had maintained it was not responsible for compensation and was very pleased with the outcome.

"It hasn't required the MUA to pay one single cent. The undertakings given we believe are fair in the circumstances and are very confined in scope and indeed are an advancement on the position we have had previously, in that there is now a recognised disputes procedure before any action is taken by the ACCC."

``We had always denied liability in this ACCC matter, there is copious amounts of evidence now on the public record that this dispute was an injustice done to the union and it was a conspiracy by Patrick and the Government,'' Mr Combet said.

Patrick's workforce was reinstated  after the Federal Court ruled there was an arguable case that
Patrick and the government had illegally conspired against the workers. Mass community picket action in support of the wharfies played a significant role in the victory for the embattled union workers.