Maritime Union of Australia members in Patrick Stevedoring facilities at Fremantle, Albany, Melbourne's Webb Dock, and Geelong have voted overwhelmingly to take protected action after a secret ballot conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission.
Wharfies in Fremantle took industrial action on the 27th December for 72 hours, with workers in Albany to follow on December 30 for 48 hours. Webb Dock and Geelong have not yet provided notice when they are taking action.
Fremantle Port Authority spokeswoman Ainslie De Vos said two vessels could potentially be affected by the strike.
"One of the vessels in the inner harbour in Fremantle will be affected by the strike and possibly a bulk ship in Kwinana will be affected," she said.
The industrial action follows 6 months of negotiations which the union has labeled as unfruitful and unsatisfactory. The unions claims include: negotiations on wage rises, increasing the levels of permanency and career progression, increased training particularly regarding OH&S procedures and the safety culture on the waterfront, better processes for consultation rather than enforcement, and a disputes procedure that allows for independent arbitration when workers and management are unable to resolve disputes.
MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said "After six months of patient, reasonable and determined negotiations on our part, Patrick has refused to meet the Union even part of the way. This is not an unreasonable wage claim; in fact wages are quite literally the least of our priorities. This is about the safety and well-being of workers at Patrick bulk and general facilities."
"I am horrified to hear that OH&S representatives that have raised safety issues on behalf of workers have been targeted by management through disciplinary measures. This same heavy handed approach by management is applied across the workforce." Paddy Crumlin said.
There have been 3 workplace deaths on the waterfront in 2010, with 60% of the Patrick workforce is employed on a causal basis. Some of these workers have been casual for over 9 years and the average is around 5 years, according to the MUA. There is minimal training and it is delivered without a strategic or purposeful framework.
The MUA and Patricks were at the centre of the 1998 Waterfront dispute where the company attempted to dismiss it's workforce on mass and bring in a non-union workforce. The plan to de-unionise the waterfront was hatched in collusion with senior members of the Howard Government.
"With the assistance of Work Choices, Patrick has instilled an antiquated and - frankly - dangerous management culture at these facilities." said Paddy Crumlin.
After six months of negotiations there are no resolutions to any of the National claims, or on any local negotiations at the 12 sites currently negotiating.