Port Workers Claim Victory After Hutchinson Standoff

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Nearly 100 workers sacked by text message in the dead of night will return to work for Hutchison Ports Australia, having secured a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement negotiated after months of conflict between the Maritime Union of Australia and the company.

The 97 workers were sacked in early August at five minutes to midnight, receiving a text which instructed them to check their emails. In turn, an email advised that the terminations would be “effective immediately”. Many of the workers had been due to go on shift within six hours, but the email said that employees’ possessions would be couriered to them.

Workers and their supporters quickly responded to the sackings by establishing two ‘community assemblies’, which initially acted as pickets to hamper Hutchison’s operations outside the company’s facilities in Sydney and Brisbane.

The protest also attracted political support with members of parliament from Labor and the Greens variously describing Hutchison’s actions as “heartless”, “disrespectful” and “unwelcome in Australian workplaces”.

After 102 days, the extensive camps that have developed on Hutchison’s doorstep can now be pulled down.

A new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement was voted up by employees yesterday, which the Maritime Union of Australia’s Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said represents “a major victory for the MUA and all Hutchison workers”.

A picket member sleeps overnight in Sydney. Image: Thom Mitchell
A picket member sleeps overnight in Sydney. Image: Thom Mitchell

He said the new EBA “retained the key components of the former agreement” and “has cemented the best safety clauses in the industry”. While there will be some redundancies as Hutchison continues to seek a restructure of its operations, the union said in a statement that the “extremely handsome” package on offer will not be forced on any workers.

“What started out as a shabby, mean spirited and heartbreaking attack on an innocent workforce by Hutchinson has been translated through the slow building of respect and proper involvement of those workers and the Fair Work Commission,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.

Those Fair Work negotiations followed a Federal Court injunction secured by the union in August, but Smith said it is “thanks to the determination of the whole of the workforce and their supporters in Australia and internationally [that]common sense has prevailed”.

“This has been a long hard go. We have been forced into a battle with the world’s biggest stevedore and we have won the battle by returning to a mutually agreed outcome,” he said.

Hutchison Ports Australia has been contacted for comment.

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Thom Mitchell

Thom Mitchell is New Matilda's Environment Reporter.

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