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Harbor Tug Lockout Threatens ‘Nationwide Port Shutdown’ in Australia

Mike Schuler
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November 16, 2022

Maritime union says Svitzer bosses are refusing to withdraw lockout that will bring Australian ports to a near standstill

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is warning of a nationwide port shutdown if Svitzer management goes through with a planned lockout of unionized harbor tug workers at ports across Australia.

The warning comes after Svitzer Australia on Tuesday announced it had given notice to its nearly 600 harbor towage employees at 17 ports across Australia of an indefinite lockout starting Friday at noon. No merchant ships will be towed in or out of ports by Svitzer tugs during the lockout.

Australia’s Fair Work Commission said it would consider making an order on lockout and set a hearing for Wednesday. But the MUA says that during the hearing Svitzer management rejected the unions’ offer to postpone any industrial action until after Christmas and refused to withdraw their lockout threat.

The lockout comes after more than 3 years of bargaining for a new enterprise agreement between Svitzer Australia, a subsidiary of A.P. Moller-Maersk, and three unions: the Maritime Union of Australia, The Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE) and the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU).

“We have seen Svitzer’s international bosses stuff a ransom note in the mail flap of the Australian community on the cusp of Christmas, to shake down the entire nation under threat of economic and social chaos for no greater purpose than their own profiteering,” said MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin.

“This company’s social licence to operate should now be in doubt, and an inquiry into how a multinational Danish owned company can be allowed to hold an entire country to ransom through this campaign of employer-led industrial militancy must be held so we never again find ourselves vulnerable to this corporate piracy,” he said.

Crumlin is also the President of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

“This step is being taken by Svitzer under the provisions of the Fair Work Act in response to damaging and ongoing industrial action being organized by the unions,” Svitzer said in its Nov. 14 announcement of the lockout.

“This is harming Svitzer’s ability to reliably, safely and efficiently serve our shipping customers and port operations around the country and is causing serious disruption to the national supply chain which is reliant on shipping.”

The MUA is accusing Svitzer management of not only refusing to withdraw their lockout notice, but also failing to engage in a conciliation process to “avert a supply chain disaster.”

“This amounts to a war on workers, a war on consumers, on households and businesses throughout the supply chain. Svitzer bosses’ dogged refusal to withdraw this lockout will destroy Christmas 2022 and bring our economy’s post-COVID recovery to a grinding halt,” Crumlin said.

The Fair Work Commission is expected to hold another hearing on the matter on Thursday.

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