Melbourne: Scab-labour began to leave Australia's docks as Australia's Federal Court ruled that Patrick Stevedores had breached the Workplace Relations Act and must reinstate its 1,400 waterfront workforce.
Thousands of workers protesting outside Patrick terminals across the nation burst into wild applause and cheering yesterday upon hearing of the reinstatement orders. But unions vowed to maintain blockades of the docks until the 1400 workers received "iron-clad guarantees" they would be reinstated.
The court finding that a case that Patrick had engaged in an unlawful conspiracy led to its parent company shares being suspended on the Melbourne stock exchange late today.
Justice North cited that the sackings on the night of April 7 as an attempt to pre-empt a case into the company scheduled before him for April 8 . In handing down his decision, Justice Tony North said the cancellation of the labour supply contract and the appointment of administrators on April 7 were made possible by a complex inter-company transaction, which occurred in September, 1997.
He said by dividing the functions of employing workers and owning the businesses between two companies, the Patrick group put in place a structure which made it easier to dismiss the whole workforce.
National Farmers Federation (NFF) president Don McGauchie said Patrick stevedore had advised the NFF scab-labour stevedoring company Producers and Consumers Stevedores (PCS) to stop operations immediately. He said PCS would cease employing or training new stevedores pending an appeal.
There was the suspension of trading of shares in the Lang Corporation, the public company behind Patrick Stevedores, after the Federal Court's decision to order Patrick to reinstate 1,400 sacked waterfront workers
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has called for the immediate reinstatement of all sacked union workers from Patrick Stevedores, following the court ruling. National Secretary John Coombs says the ruling is an important step towards protecting the jobs of other Australian workers from ruthless employers.
Mr Coombs says it marks a turning point in the battle to prove that the dismissal of Patrick's entire workforce was illegal. He has called for the company to immediately open its gates around the country to its union workforce.
Earlier a contingent of about 150 construction workers marched in five abreast to the cheers of the protesters. Three Eureka stockade flags were flying - one from a vehicle, another on the terminal entrance fence and the other hanging from a stand in the centre of the crowd.
Police kept an agreement overnight not to try to remove protesters but workers were gathering in anticipation of a possible police operation against them today. Blocking the road into their encampment about 100 metres from the Patrick entrance were three piles of steel girders, some up to 30 metres long, welded to each other.
ABC radio today reported that Melbourne jails were being cleared as a possible step to take in arrested protesters, after Victorian Supreme Court judge Barry Beach yesterday ordered the maritime union and its supporters to abandon picket lines on Victorian docks.
ACTU president Jennie George today said she was prepared to go to jail to ensure the picket line on the Melbourne waterfront continued. Ms George said the union's belief was that the court decisions should be ignored.
"Yes that is our point of view. People should continue to peacefully protest and exercise their rights as citizens in a democratic country," she said.
Yesterday the ACTU executive endorsed sympathy strikes for other union members to back the wharfies and Ms George suggested today that unions could risk secondary boycott sanctions to support their cause.
She said unions should tell their rank and file members that one objective of the action was the re-instatement of the wharfies. "But beyond that every worker is at risk in this country. There is no law it seems that protects people at the moment from the kind of fate that the wharfies had at the hands of Mr Corrigan," she said.