By Ben Wilson
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says members at Qube’s Melbourne Bulk and General operation are facing a cut to wages by at least 40 percent and the removal of a range on work conditions that have been in place for decades.
the standoff resulted in a 48 hour strike this last weekend and if the matter is not resolved soon the dispute is set to escalate.
Qube is a labour hire company for MIRRAT, which handles bulk car imports. It is a subsidiary of Wallenius Wilhelmsen Logistics, the Norwegian/Swedish shipping multinational that carries five million cars a year around the globe, as well as 12 million cubic metres of “high and heavy” cargoes such as tractors, trains and general equipment that can be driven or carried off on wheeled trailers.
Company Ports Director Michael Sousa says that maintaining conditions is uneconomical. But MIRRAT has always seen the operation at the former Appleton Dock as a greenfields site. This means that preexisting conditions are not recognised.
The backdrop, according to those affected, is that management has continually been provoking its workforce by pushing excessive hours of work, ongoing victimisation, targeted sackings and the removal of rosters, till the pattern at Qube has been overwork, tiredness and a decline in safety.
Last year there was a major dispute on Web Dock over a situation that was not too different. It has now become apparent that the strategy has been adopted by more than one waterfront employer and fits into what is happening in some other industries.
The Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) has condemned the growing corporate practice of terminating existing agreements, as a vehicle to undermine wages and conditions and get this rubber stamped by the Fair Work Commission.
This has not been accepted by the work forces within many of the companies, and this has led to some major confrontations over the last two years.
An ongoing dispute at Cube could prove to be another landmark case.
The company has applied to Fair Work Australia to terminate the existing agreement, which had been negotiated over more than two decades.
Maritime Union of Australia Assistant National Secretary Warren Smith said workers had introduced industrial bans and had restricted shifts to seven hours. Shifts had varied from four to 12 hours.
“Excessive 12-hour shifts are not required now and are a fatigue issue,” he said.
Mr Smith said workers would refuse to return to work if Qube was successful in its push to terminate the existing enterprise agreement.
“If there is going to be an escalation in a big way that is what it is going to be about because the workers will not work under the award,” he said. “If they want to strip away 25 years of bargaining history, then it’s on.”
According to ACTU secretary Sally McManus, “Qube are abusing loopholes and broken rules to enrich themselves at the expense of working people.
“We need to change the rules so that working people like the MUA members at Qube can win fair pay and good, secure jobs.”