Melbourne: Australian unions reacted angrily on Wednesday to the overnight sacking of 1,400 dock workers and won a pledge from international unions to target the stevedoring company involved.
Hundreds of Australian workers walked off the job on Wednesday in protest after Patrick Stevedores sent in security guards with dogs to force unionised dock workers off wharves around Australia.They were joined by hundreds of nurses, teachers and other public sector workers for noisy protest rallies.
The Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions campaign director Tim Noonan said an international alert had gone out over the sackings. He warned the Australian waterfront dispute is now the most pressing issue facing the labour movement worldwide and said unionists and are now preparing to retaliate.
Victorian Trades Hall Council state secretary Leigh Hubbard said the Trades Hall executive would meet tomorrow morning to discuss action, which was likely to include a rally of union workers from Dallas Brooks Hall in the city next Thursday.
Mr Hubbard spoke from the Port of Melbourne Webb Dock where the waterfront dispute began last year when Patrick sub-let dock space to a non-unionised work force employed by the National Farmers Federation.
This morning around 1000 Construction, Forestry, Mining and Electrical Union (CFMEU) workers joined Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) workers in a noisy but peaceful demonstration outside Webb dock.
In the surprise raid late on Tuesday, private security guards -- some sent into the docks on fishing boats -- handed shocked dockers their dismissal notices and bundled them out of the wharves.There was confrontation at Melbourne's East Swanson Dock in the dead of night, where workers battled to stop private security guards.
It was a scene repeated throughout the night, at Patrick's terminals across the country. Hundreds of angry workers have now formed picket lines outside docks in Melbourney, Sdney, Brisbane and Fremantle as union leaders threatened massive retaliation.
``Our attitude is that an injury to one worker is an injury to all workers. It's about solidarity,'' said Andrew Ferguson, a building union official.
The International Transport Federation in London said it would target Patrick and boycott any shippers using non-union labour in Australia. ``If there are attempts to use non-union labour in Australian ports, our affiliates around the world in the docks that do trade with Australia will do everything they can to prevent those ships from using those facilities,'' ITF general secretary David Cockroft told Australian ABC radio.
New Zealand Seafarers' Union president Dave Morgan said industrial action by New Zealand wharfies against Patrick was possible following the lay-off of workers. New Zealand unions in January pledged their support to the Australian waterfront workers in their battle against what they see as moves to smash union monopoly of labour.
Patrick Stevedores announced the sacking of its entire workforce around the country, with security guards moving onto dock sites in several cities overnight, locking out Patrick's 1,400 workers. The announcement was made just before midnight last night by Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith.
The Federal Government plans to impose new levies on the stevedoring industry to finance the redundancies of sacked wharfies. Legislation introduced in Parliament this morning provides for a $12 levy on all shipping containers and $6 on every car unloaded on Australia's wharves.
It also establishes a new Commonwealth body, the Maritime Industry Finance Company, which will be responsible for borrowing up to $250 million (US$165 million) to finance the redundancy packages. Workplace Relations minister Peter Reith said the government would guarantee redundancy payments to the sacked dockers.
Federal Opposition leader Kim Beazley said Patrick Stevedores' decision to sack its workforce is unlawful. Mr Beazley said the Workplace Relations Act prohibits a sacking just because a worker is a union member, and includes certain dismissal conditions which Patrick has not met.
Shadow Industrial Relations Minister Bob McMullan said the replacement of union workers will only mean a lower-paid workforce and will not improve efficiency on the waterfront.
"I think it's quite shocking, particularly that the Government seems to be celebrating the fact that something like 1,000 or more Australians have been sacked," he said. "It just reveals what the Government's strategy has been all along - Dubai and all those other events fall into place and it's clear the Government's always been conspiring with Patrick to ensure that 1,000 Australians got sacked," Mr McMullan said.
The Australian conflict was sparked in January when interests associated with the farmers' federation leased part of Patrick's Webb Dock in the southern city of Melbourne to establish a non-union stevedoring operation.
Patrick, with the conservative Liberal-National government and the main farmers' body, the National Farmers' Federation, has been at the forefront of a bitter war to break the union's monopoly on the supply of waterfront labour. The NFF is in the process of setting up a non-union stevedoring company - P&C Stevedores, at the dock.
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