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Drama at ports as Newcastle blocked, Patrick-MUA bicker

With additional reportage by Ian Ackerman.

It’s been a dramatic few days on Australia’s waterfront, with climate change protestors blocking trade at the Port of Newcastle, and one of the nation’s biggest stevedores squaring off with the maritime union.

A flotilla of kayaks, canoes, yachts and various homemade watercraft blocked the entrance to the Hunter River – and therefore the Port of Newcastle – on Sunday, May 8.

The waterborne-blockade stretched across the river from the southern bank at the intersection of Horseshoe Bend road and Newcastle Dog Beach (approximately 720m south-west of Nobbys Lighthouse) to the northern bank at the Pitt Street Reserve.

Among the waterborne protestors was the Senator for Victoria and Greens leader Richard di Natale.

The port was shut for about six hours from 11am to about 5pm.

A spokesman for the protestors said the blockade and protest was a symbolic demonstration against a lack of perceived action to tackle climate change.

A spokesperson for the Port of Newcastle condemned the protestors’ behaviour.

“Protestors’ actions in attempting to block the port, trains and terminal equipment had the potential to put themselves and workers of the various companies in serious danger,” the spokesperson said.

“In a safety-focused industry, their behaviour is a concern.”

Protestors also blocked a rail-link into the port to prevent the passage of trains and the port’s receival of coal.

Approximately 66 people were arrested, according to NSW Police; most due to alleged actions on landside infrastructure including rail lines, conveyor belts and bridges.

David Anderson, CEO of peak body Ports Australia, said the body was “highly critical of the reckless and dangerous behaviours of the protestors at the weekend”.


Patrick at odds with union

Meanwhile, one of the nation’s biggest stevedoring companies is at odds with the notoriously militant Maritime Union of Australia.

MUA members overwhelmingly rejected an enterprise bargaining agreement vote 98% to 2%, which the union says Patrick arranged in a failed attempt to thwart the union.

“Now it’s time to stop playing games and get back to the table,” declared Mr Tracey.

He went on to say the vote gave the MUA clear authority in negotiations.

“Political parties claim mandates with only 51% of the vote, therefore a vote in excess of 98% gives the MUA an all clear to continue what we’ve been doing from the very start; that is, representing the membership,” Tracey said.

“The overwhelming majority voting no to the shoddy agreement also shows that the stall in negotiations has come from their side of the fence.”

Tracey criticised the cost of the ballot; Patrick hired independent pollster Elections Australia to conduct the vote.

“I have no idea how much this private ballot cost, but I can only assume a pretty penny, a pointless pretty penny, which produced nada in terms of a result for Patrick,” he said.

Although workers have lost $8,275.87 on average as a result of the MUA’s strike action to date, according to Patrick, Tracey argued the workers are willing and able to take the loss.

“Our members are willing to lose money to secure conditions,” he said.

“The workers understand this agreement is much more than take-home cash, this is about ensuring they have job security, increased permanency and safety on the job.”

A senior executive of Patrick, the stevedoring subsidiary of Asciano, meanwhile said it will lock out its workforce in retaliation to any strike action.

“If further industrial action is initiated, a lockout of the workforce becomes a more probable measure rather than a mere possibility,” said Alex Badenoch, a senior member of the Patrick management team.

Badenoch said the company is carefully considering its next steps and may go towards binding arbitration.

Any binding arbitration hearings would be before the industrial umpire, the Fair Work Commission.

“This comes at a risk to the company but we recognise arbitration may be the fairest and most effective path to resolving this impasse, given that we are working with a union that lacks the maturity to negotiate in a manner to conclude an agreement that supports both its members and the business upon which our employees ultimately rely,” she said.

“It’s a path the MUA has refused so far to consider.

“If we cannot reach agreement on what is a fair offer, or have the matter arbitrated by consent then our choices narrow considerably.”

This is an edited version of a pair of stories which originally appeared on ABHR affiliate site Lloyd’s List Australia.

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