Melbourne: Victory cries greeted sacked Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) members as they returned to work at Melbourne's East Swanson Dock, after a four-week lockout at 6:30pm tonight.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) president Jennie George and MUA national organiser Mick O'Leary led the first shift back to work as more than 2,000 supporters cheered in a guard of honour with the familiar battle cry "MUA -Here to stay!".
But with the opening of the gates came a tremendous sense of relief. Many of the community supporters had tears in their eyes as the reinstated workers walked through the gates. MUA members and supporters had been waiting since 11.30 AM for this event with periodic news of new obstacles being placed in their path of returning to work.
The bitter lockout ended tonight at Melbourne's East Swanson dock – 30 days after Patrick sacked all its 2000 Maritime Union workers –100 days after Patrick opened the door to non-union labour at Webb Dock
The first container for a month left the dock at 7.20pm and trucks were moving out of the gates every minute by 8.30pm. "We've got a lot of work to do, a lot of hard work to do," Mr O'Leary said. "But I can tell you, Peter Reith and Chris Corrigan never thought this day'd happen. And it's happened."
MUA national secretary John Coombs in Sydney condemned attempts by the company to frustrate efforts to return to work. "I've been making this statement all the way through - that this has been put in such a way as to establish a poison pill," he said. "Every time we have a win, there's another poison pill for us.
Earlier the MUA's dynamic John Higgins told the audience that inspections at East Swanson dock showed up a fair bit of damage both to equipment and locker facilites by departing non union labour. But Higgins reassured the anxious that today was the historic 100th day and that they would not be provoked by stalling tactics by Patrick and congratulated protesters for their peaceful vigil on East Swanson.
Union members are still waiting to enter Patrick's terminals around the rest of the country. An advance party completed safety assessments at Webb Dock yesterday and the first shift of wharfies was expected to walk through the gates of that dock at 7am.Port Botany terminal workers in Sydney are hoping to return later tonight. Qld and South Australia's Patrick workers are expected to return to work tomorrow morning.
The return to work came on the eve of publication of documents potentially embarrassing to the Liberal Government and its role in last year's abortive "industrial mercenaries" affair in Dubai.
Patrick chairman Chris Corrigan last night hit out at the owners of
the documents – three former army commandos involved in a company called
Fynwest Ltd – and threatened legal action against anyone who suggested
he had acted improperly or unethically.