Newcastle: Australia’s rogue stevedoring company Patrick shut down its operations at one of the country’s busiest ports Wednesday as union labour from the P & O company will load the two ships which have been waiting since yesterday.
As the nation’s bitter waterfront dispute entered a second week the Maritime Union (MUA) is claiming a victory, after Patrick Stevedores agreed, which last week sacked 1,400 union dockers to remove non-union labour from the Newcastle waterfront.
Union spokesman Laurie Steen says the move is a breakthrough in the dispute and it has national implications. But Patrick said the decision to withdraw its new scab-labour from Newcastle was temporary and two ships at anchor there would be sub-contracted to rival stevedore P&O Ports.
Between 5,000 to 6,000 containers are estimated to be stranded on Patrick Stevedores' wharves, blockaded by union pickets in protest against the company's decision last week to sack its entire union worforce and hire non-union dockers. Sydney and Melbourne were hardest hit with not one container leaving Patrick facilites since the dispute started.
The day began when a bus carrying non-union labour pushed through a picketline on the waterfront. When a union member was run over windows opf the bus were smashed. The bus was unable to let the workers out and was forced to drive to the end of the dock, where it remained for three hours and later left the site.
In Melbourne, the Maritime Union of Australia argued in Australia's Federal Court for the reinstatement of the 2100 sacked workers and told how the stevedore had shuffled $300 million worth of assets away from four subsidiaries before sacking its workforce yesterday.
Counsel for the union, Julian Burnside, has told the Federal Court Patrick Stevedores acted surreptitiously, dishonestly and with the utmost of secrecy. Mr Burnside told the court a complicated jigsaw emerged last September but was only exposed a week ago when it was discovered Patrick had already undergone a $300 million restructure.
Justice Anthony North said he was uneasy about not knowing what would be the consequences of the orders, given the company had appointed a Voluntary Administrator. The union claims the sackings breached employment agreements, company and industrial laws, and were part of a conspiracy involving the Federal Government.
A company director, Bill Clayton, failed to appear to answer why a voluntary administrator was appointed last week. But company lawyers have told the court it doesn't have the power to force a financially unviable company into taking back its workers.
ACTU president Jenny George emerged from the court saying already there is evidence of great collusion between the Government and Patrick Stevedores.
Toyota Australia said P&O Ports was now handling all its exports and imports of finished cars, but about 45 containers of badly needed car-part imports from Japan were stranded on Patrick's Melbourne wharves. Its Melbourne plant makes more than 90,000 cars a year, with about one third headed for export markets.
In Fremantle angry Maritime Unionists are continuing to protest near the Patrick terminal after police tried to evict them from their picket line early this morning and cheered the driver of one truck who decided not to enter.
More than 100 members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) were dragged into police vans as police in riot gear and the elite emergency unit, the Tactical Response Group, evicted them. Most were released a short distance up the road and police say 12 protesters were escorted from the scene for their own safety but no-one was arrested.
The Fremantle Port Authority instigated the overnight operation by police, saying the 60 unionists outside the Patrick terminal were trespassing. The police moved in at about 1:30am and tried to disperse the group, many of whom had formed a human chain across the gates.
Nine unionists, including members of the Builders Laborers Union, were removed from outside the terminal and taken to the Fremantle police station, where they were released this morning.
Builders Laborers Union leader, Kevin Reynolds, says some of those evicted from the Fremantle Dock will be seeking legal advice later today, claiming they were assaulted by police. Mr Reynolds says there was no request to leave, and no warning of the police operation.
At Port Botany in Sydney, more than 500 unionists are on the picket line preparing to block more than 30 trucks expected this morning. State Upper House MP, Ian McDonald, and a number of other parliamentarians, have joined the picket and says they are willing to be arrested in the attempt to stop the trucks.
The first step towards a possible American boycott of cargo ships from Australia is expected later this week when the two largest waterfront unions in the United States officially offer their assistance to the MUA.
The International Longshoremen's Association and the International Longshore and Warehouse Union expect to send official letters of support to the MUA within the next two days. A spokesman for the Longshoremen's Association says exactly what it intends to do is still under discussion. But it has the capacity to withold labour from any ship.