Melbourne: Wharfies are preparing for a bloodly confrontation despite High Court victories in Australia and London to give the Australian Maritme Union a chance to rectify the illegal sackings of a rogue stevedore on Friday.
On national television Victoria's Police Minister, Bill McGrath. predicted the waterfront dispute would reach a "bloody battle" as he massed some 1000 officers in Melbourne for a showdown. "It's going to be a tough battle, I believe it will be a bloody battle, but at the end of the day we must win," McGrath told a conference of the Victorian state branch of the conservative National Party.
In anticipation of a possible confrontation at Melbourne's East Swanson dock on Friday, building workers, electricians and truck drivers manned a "Community Assembly" picket at the dock. 3 CR, a community radio station, was helping to alert people when they were needed to mass at the picket line.
The Victorian Trades Hall has issued the crowd with instructions on what to do when police come and stress that any protests must be non-violent and all children should be kept out of danger. As the numbers swell, Dean Miles from the Electrical Trades Union is telling them they are playing a part in Australia's industrial history."It will be our piece of history," he said.
The Australian High Court has dismissed the case challenging the Federal Court's jurisdicational rights to hear conspiracy and breach of contract claims, initiated by the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU).
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is claiming victory following
a ruling that the Federal Court action against Patrick Stevedores, the
Commonwealth and the National Farmers Federation (NFF) can proceed.
The nation's second largest container handling firm, Patrick Stevedores, fired its entire Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) workforce the night of April 7.
Patrick said the sackings were necessary to improve waterfront productivity, but the country's largest container firm, P&O Australia, is still operating under union labour. But Justice Mary Gaudron has ruled the Federal Court in Melbourne can continue to hear conspiracy and induced breach of contract claims initiated in the wake of Patrick Stevedores' mass sackings of its 1,400-strong union workforce.
Today's application by the Commonwealth and the NFF sought to establish that the Federal Court had no jurisdiction to hear the claims. But Justice Gaudron dismissed all but one application pertaining to cross-vesting legislation which will now be dealt with in the High Court in Brisbane.
Lawyer for the MUA Andrew Watson says that is a small residual issue which does not affect the Federal Court action. He says today's decision is a small step towards a just outcome being achieved on the issue.
ITF Injunction lifted
Tonight's ruling in the High Court in London follows Patrick Stevedores' move against the union umbrella group, the ITF, which is affiliated to the MUA.
Lawyers for Patrick claimed the Federation had acted illegally by urging dockers around the world to pressure shipping companies to break contracts with Patrick. But Mr Justice Thomas rejected the claim, saying it had no basis in English law.
He said continuing the interim injunction would severely impair the
ability of the ITF to lend support to the MUA, in what he described as
a "bitter political and industrial dispute".
The ITF welcomed the decision, saying it will resume contacting affilitate unions around the world, asking them to do everything they can to influence shipping companies to stop using Patrick's facilities in Australia.
Melbourne confrontation expected
In Melbourne some 3000 people were gathered at Melbourne's East Swanson dock early tonight with media reports have said up to 1,000 Victoria police might be involved in any action. Ambulances are on standby.
Wives, girlfriends and mothers of Australian dockers rallied in a show of solidarity for 1,400 sacked waterside workers and their families.
Meanwhile,the Federal court has adjourned to consider a decision on whether to reinstate Patrick's 1,400 waterfront workers.
The Voluntary Administrator for Patrick Stevedores has told the Federal
Court in Melbourne the company has already pulled out of five ports, following
a 50 per cent downturn in business.
A three-day hearing has ended, with Justice Tony North saying the complexity of the case made it impossible to grant orders tonight.
Justice North's comments came despite lawyers for the MUA seeking an
urgent ruling following comments from Victoria's Police Minister, Bill
McGrath.The Federal Court was told Mr McGrath had been quoted in the media,
predicting the waterfront dispute would reach a "bloody battle".
In other related developments today:
New South Wales Premier Bob Carr has appealed for a negotiated settlement on the waterfront before there is bloodshed. Mr Carr has offered the Federal Government a five-point plan to end the disruption on the wharves, involving a compromise between Patrick Stevedoring and the Maritime Union.
Prime Minister John Howard was jeered and heckled by a crowd of 500 protestors, and had eggs thrown at him, during a visit to Maitland, near Newcastle, today.
At Sydney's Darling Harbour a truck hit a protester as it tried to enter a side gate to the wharf. The protester was taken to hospital.
At Sydney's Port Botany hundreds of protesters sat on the ground, arms locked, as police dragged picketers away, but they stopped a truck from entering Patrick's terminal.
The MUA has warned Queensland is on the brink of a state-wide strike as police clamp down on waterfront protests.