Timeline For The Patrick Dispute

Submitted by Spartacus on January 11, 2011

Source: The Australian, 17 June 1998, p.4; Parliament of Australia Current Issues Brief 15 1997-98: "Outline of the Waterfront Dispute", Canberra; Svensen (1998), other newspaper reports in The Australian, and personal observations.


The combined efforts of the Court Liberal Government and "entrepreneur" Len Buckeridge fail to set up a non-union operation in Fremantle in the face of sustained union opposition.



The Workplace Relations Act 1996 takes effect.


Howard Cabinet votes to support Patrick in a variety of ways (including financial assistance) in the latter's decision to take "radical action" against the MUA.


International Purveyors attempt to bring in non-union labour employed under Australian Workplace Agreements to operate facilities in Cairns. Threats by the International Transport Workers Federation to hamper the port operations of the parent company, mining giant Freport McMoran, block this move.

Patrick undertakes substantial organisational restructuring and "outsources" its workforce to four labour-hire companies.

3 December

About 30 former and serving military personnel employed by Fynwest under AWAs fly to Dubai to train as wharfies at the port of Rashid.

14 December

Dubai operations aborted after Dubai government withdraws trainees' visas in the face of threatened international industrial action.


28 January

Patrick sub-leases part of its Webb Dock facilities in Melbourne to NFF-backed Producers and Consumers Stevedores (PCS), and locks out its unionised workforce, sparking union protests.

3 February

Patrick chairman Chris Corrigan admits his company was directly involved in the Dubai affair.

23 February

Non-union recruits start training at Webb Dock.


MUA engages in limited industrial action in Sydney, Fremantle, Melbourne and Brisbane to put pressure on Patrick to sign new enterprise agreements.

2 April

AWU offers to shut down oil refinery operations in support of MUA members locked out of Webb Dock. This offer is not taken up by the ACTU.

6 April

MUA seeks orders from the Federal Court to prevent Patrick from dismissing its workforce. Orders not granted, but Patrick is advised to abide by its awards and agreements.

7 April

Following late night raids on port facilities around Australia by security guards with dogs, Patrick sacks its unionised workforce of 1,400 permanents and 300 part-time workers, and announces that it will outsource a range of services hitherto performed by its own labour hire companies to nine outside contractors, including PCS.

8 April

Peter Reith announces a package of redundancy measures for Patrick workers, to be paid for by a levy on container port operators. Also announces support by Patrick and P&O for the Government's waterfront productivity initiatives. Picket lines established at every major port.

MUA wins interim Federal Court injunctions preventing the termination of Patrick workers, but the injunction is stayed, allowing PCS to set about docking ships and moving containers over the Easter break (10-13 April).

16 April

Mass delegates' meetings organised by VTHC and ACTUQ.

VTHC delegates vote to organise state-wide day of action on 6 May.

ACTUQ meeting condemns actions by Patrick and the Government and resolves "to prepare for an industrial campaign" but no date is set.

Savage raid by 140 WA riot police in helmets with batons drawn smashes up waterside workers protest camp at Fremantle at 2 am. Within hours 2,000 MUA supporters gather at the picket line to stop all traffic moving in and out.

17-19 April

Mass pickets at East Swanson Dock repel massive police efforts to break the line to clear a way for containers to move.

20 April

Justice Beach of the Supreme Court of Victoria grants Patrick a far-reaching injunction to clear the entrances to the port of Melbourne. This decision is appealed and the injunction is then confined to MUA officials and members.

ACTU Executive vows to defy the Beach order and joins the picket line at East Swanson Dock. ACTU Executive also sanctions picket lines and demonstrations in support of Patrick wharfies, but not solidarity strikes in other industries.

21 April

Federal Court Justice Tony North issues orders reinstating the unionised Patrick workforce, but the orders are immediately appealed and stayed.

Mass arrest of 186 in Brisbane, some blocking the road outside Fisherman's Island, some supporting workers chained across railway tracks. (Charges subsequently dropped by police in late September.)

22 April

Dockworkers in South Africa and Japan announce bans on Australian cargo.

23 April

Full Bench of the Federal Court finds Justice North's decision "free from appellable error". Patrick immediately challenges the decision in the High Court.

Day of Action organised by ACTUQ sees large contingents of blue-collar unions and several bus-loads of students march through driving rain to Fisherman's Island picket line in Brisbane.

28 April

NSW TLC organises mass delegates meeting to discuss MUA dispute.

4 May

High Court upholds Justice North's reinstatement orders, forcing 370 PCS workers off the docks. Negotiations then begin towards a peace package between the MUA and Patrick.

Largest May Day rally in Brisbane since SEQEB dispute (1985).

6 May

VTHC Day of Action includes march by 80,000 through Melbourne in support of MUA and against the Workplace Relations Act.

MUA members reinstated to the wharves, but unpaid other than weekly strike relief of $250.

27 May

Picket lines disbanded at Patrick facilities.

12 June

Patrick and MUA finalise framework agreement for resolution of the dispute.

16 June

Framework agreement leaked to the media.

PCS terminates employment of most of its staff.

16-18 June

Mass meetings of MUA members (from both Patrick and P&O) receive report-backs from national officers regarding negotiations over the Patrick's dispute. No draft of the framework agreement is released to members.

23-25 June

Meetings of MUA Patrick members vote in favour of the framework agreement officially revealed to them for the first time at the meeting. Opposition most evident in Melbourne where 25-30% of members vote against the agreement. Elsewhere the agreement is accepted with few votes recorded against.

5 August

Settlement reached between Patrick and MUA.

31 August

New enterprise agreements endorsed by stopwork meetings in Sydney and Melbourne.


Final settlement drawn up over redundancies and threatened action by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Certification of new enterprise agreements.

Redundancies as per framework agreement begin.