Wharfies Expected To Return To Work Today Following Federal Court Win


The workers Hutchinson Ports Australia sacked by a midnight email will be back on the job this afternoon after the Federal Court granted an injunction to rescinded 97 redundancies the Hong Kong based logistics operator dished out last Thursday.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) secured the injunction yesterday after community picket lines were established at ports in Brisbane and Sydney early Friday to protest the sackings.

“It’s a decision that reflects a basic justice, and it’s a decision we wanted to hear,” said Warren Smith, the union’s Assistant National Secretary.

“It’s a decision everyone on the picket line out there wanted to hear and I think it’s a decision that every member of the Australian public who stands up for justice and stands up for a fair go wanted to hear as well,” Smith said.

The MUA had alleged that Hutchinson Ports failed to comply with a dispute resolution clause written into the workers’ Enterprise Agreement and other requirements to consult.

The termination of 97 wharfies – 57 in Sydney and 40 in Brisbane – has been slammed by Labor and the Greens as “heartless”, “disrespectful” and “unwelcome in Australian workplaces”.

Around midnight on Thursday 40 per cent of Hutchinson’s workforce received a text message telling them to check their emails, which contained a termination letter advising them “your position will not be retained [and]there are no redeployment opportunities”.

The workers were told they would “not be required to attend work effective immediately” – although they would be paid out until August 14 – and that their belongings would be couriered to them so they didn’t have to return to the workplace.

The sackings sparked outrage in the community and other unions, who immediately picketed Hutchinson’s operations, while employees who’d been retained refused to work until their colleagues were reinstated.

The company had flagged some redundancies in July but promised in a memo to staff that “we would not in these circumstances simply ask people to leave immediately” and “before any position is made redundant we will meet the affected person [and]give this person an opportunity to respond”.

Speaking at Hutchinson’s docks in Port Botany this morning the Deputy Secretary of the Sydney branch of the MUA, Paul Keating, said that “with the injunction it has been determined that all redundancies have been rescinded”.

MUA Sydney Branch Deputy Secretary Paul Keating. Image: Thom Mitchell

“The union will meet with the company in the proceeding days to deal with the particulars relating to our members and their contract of employment,” he said.

“For the next two weeks we will meet throughout that period and my understanding is that there will be another court case later this month to deal with the matters relating to this dispute.”

Keating said the mood at Port Botany is “pretty good and positive because these workers feel that there might be some justice delivered for them” but concerns over the security of their future employment remain very much alive.

There were scenes of confusion this morning as workers and their supporters, a crowd of around 60 people at the time, waited in anticipation for a shift which was slated to start at six o’clock.

“Over the course of about 30 minutes we waited for the security line to be removed by the company, which it wasn’t,” Keating said.

“So the union rang management to find out the next stage. At that stage management had decided the day shift would not commence but they are keen to see the afternoon shift.”

The shifts are supposed to be allocated by a member of the MUA under the enterprise agreement, Keating said, but “the union will accept that the first allocation, that being afternoon shift, will be arranged by the company and then from there it’ll be arranged that an MUA allocator [take over]”.

Speaking outside the Federal Court yesterday Smith said that the union “has come to an agreement with respect to undertakings”.

“We know that everything we’ve been fighting for is just, and we know that the many, many hundreds of people that have come out to Port Botany, have come onto the picket line in Brisbane, also recognise that,” he said.

Hutchinson Ports Australia has not returned New Matilda’s calls.

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.