Melbourne: Jubilant unionists celebrated late into the night on Thursday after the Australian Federal Court ordered that 1,400 sacked dockers should be allowed back onto the wharves.
A mass rally at East Swanson dock in Melbourne, listening to live telecast, greeted the decision with shouts of "yes" as sacked workers raised their fist and punched the air. More than 5000 people were jubilant at the Federal Court's ruling and vowing to stay there until the 1400 sacked workers walked back in through the gates.
Leigh Hubbard, secretary of the Trades Hall Council, told the crowd if it hadn't been for thousands of them outside the gates every day for the past two weeks, the fight would have been lost.
But Mr Hubbard also warned that the "corporate snakes in the grass" would try more legal tricks before the war was finally over. "Someone once said, `evil flourishes when good people do nothing', and the good people of Victoria came out in their thousands to support these workers; you should all be congratulated",he said.
The Full Bench of the Federal Court decided this evening that the original decision to reinstate waterfront workers at Patrick was "free from appealable error." It was considering an appeal by Australia's second largest container handling firm, Patrick Stevedores, against an order requiring it to take back the 1,400 workers it dismissed in its bid to break the Maritime Union of Australia.
In a long judgement the court's decision
was relayed to the waiting crowd a that came just before 7pm, presiding
Judge Murray Wilcox explained why the court had decided to support the
decision by Justice Tony North on Tuesday.
Silence at first greeted the legal jargon, but with the words "free from appealable error", a roar broke out with maritime worker supporters once again chanting the picket line battle-cry: ``MUA, Here to Stay!''
A single judge on Tuesday ordered the company to rehire the workers pending a civil trial on the union's claim that Patrick had schemed with the government and the nation's top farm lobby to replace the workers with non-union labour.
"... it is appropriate to say we have read, and carefully considered, the whole of Justice's North reasons for judgment but we find them free from appellable error,"Justice Wilcox said. Justice Wilcox, also earlier rejected in the judgement, arguments about the perceived inefficiences of the waterfront.
"The court does not have the material that would be necessary to make a judgement about the efficiency [of] the Australian waterfront, either in absolute terms or relative to other countries, the causes of such inefficiencies that may exist or the desirable steps to overcome any perceived problems," he said.
"This material has not been placed before the Court because the parties have realised, although some commentators have not, that these are not issues for the Court's determination,"Justice Wilcox said. "The business of the Court is legality. Just as it is not unknown in human affairs for a noble objective to be pursued by ignoble means, so it sometimes happens that desirable ends are pursued by unlawful means."
Wilcox also rejected Patrick's argument that the order was unworkable because of animosity between MUA members and the Patrick membership and because the subsidiaries which employed the dockers had been declared insolvent.
Wilcox said the order had ``the tendency to provide stevedoring business,
and therefore income, to the Patrick employers'' -- meaning that the companies
should be able to resume trading despite debts.