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  Issue No 8 Official Organ of LaborNet 09 April 1999  

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Unions

The Waterfront One Year On

By John Coombs - MUA National Secretary

One year after what was arguably the biggest Australian industrial dispute in living memory and the Maritime Union of Australia is STILL Here to Stay.

Members are still back in the gates on the job, but for those who chose to take generous redundancy offers.

As MUA National Secretary I've defied government speculation that I would not last out the year and been re-elected unopposed for another four.

The farmers who backed the ill-fated PCS Webb Dock stevedoring company have gone bush, and the dogs are back in their kennels.

As for the Dubai recruits and Vietnam vets trained up to take over the wharves, they are out of a job and running their own conspiracy case; Patrick boss Chris Corrigan is facing perjury

charges and Workplace Relations Minister Peter Reith is ducking renewed shots at exposing the full government conspiracy to sack an entire unionised workforce.

In our west Court Government ministers are in the dock under cross examination in yet another conspiracy case.

Overall it has been a win for the Australian and world labour movement.

Many of the techniques honed on the Patrick pickets have been adopted for other struggles - the union movement collectively running pickets to keep ahead of court injunctions banning individual officials and delegates from the area and conspiracy cases in the courts exposing joint government/employer conspiracies to unlawfully sack workers on mass for being members of a union. The most recent example is the Gordonstone miners.

Spooked

The often conservative Sydney Morning Herald (April 7) summed up the scorein our favour: "Kelty's success will be measured by how many companies follow Patrick's lead and tackle unions head-on. At this stage, most companies are spooked.

The legacy of the waterfront dispute is that the construction companies are unwilling to take on the CFMEU. Reith's frustration is palpable as he flounders in attempts to persuade business to use his 1996 Workplace Relations Act to its full potential."

It was a diabolical plan - to train defence force personnel in another country, bring them back, remove the Australian workers with dogs and balaclava clad security guards - totally unacceptable. And it failed.

Given that the intention was that the maritime union would never get back through the gate and the union would be totally put out of business, we have done well. We're still in business and we've still got coverage of all the workers on the waterfront and the vast majority of those who wanted to stay in the industry are still in the industry.

Worldwide solidarity

When word first got out that the Howard Government would take on the MUA, ACTU Secretary Bill Kelty threatened the biggest picket line in Australian history. He delivered.

In retrospect it is being called the world's longest picket line. Dockworkers internationally have shown just how global solidarity can be built and used during industrial disputes. No-one has forgotten the role the International Transport Workers' Federation played during the dispute.

Nor have we forgotten how US wharfies sent one ship and its black cargo like a boomerang back to Australia or how many more vessels by-passed other world ports after declarations from local dock workers that they would black ban them.

Robots, Productivity & Perjury

On the waterfront the incorrigible Patrick boss Chris Corrigan is still in the business of turning men into machines - with considerable investments in 'robot' development under way at Sydney University.

His workforce is on the job but morale is low. No-one has forgotten or forgiven. Long working hours and casualisation of the workforce are the biggest gripes. While Corrigan and his spin doctors claim they have halved the workforce and doubled productivity, in fact while half the permanent labour force are gone, Patrick employs around 700 casual workers and many of them are working six days a week around the clock.

This will not be repeated in the P&O enterprise agreement and the union is ready to tackle the issue at Patrick. Undoubtedly many conditions were lost. But the only place to fight to get them back is inside the gates.

As for Chris Corrigan's boasts of record profits and productivity - he is merely talking up business. Each claim proceeds a key meeting with shippers and the pursuit of another contract.

Whereas before it suited Corrigan to talk productivity down to justify sacking his workforce, now it suits him to talk it up, using ingenious devices like citing the ship rate not the crane rate (most ships are allocated two cranes and that's how he doubles the productivity figure).

The Bureau of Transport which keeps tabs on productivity data was not fooled- it reported a slight drop in the crane rates in most ports in its last bulliten -Waterline.

As well Mr Corrigan is now facing perjury charges. On April 7, exactly 12 months to the day that the dogs came onto the docks, the Industrial Relations Commission referred evidence Mr Corrigan gave during the waterfront dispute to the Federal Director of Public Prosecutions. Under oath Chris Corrigan denied any financial involvement in the controversial Dubai training exercise.

Soon after his business associates produced financial and documentary evidence which showed the opposite. One document shows conclusively that Patrick agreed to pay Fynwest an initial retainer of $30,000 and a management fee of $4,000 a week from October 1997. There was also promise of a placement fee for each 'staff member' signed up for specialist training. Commonwealth Bank, Ballarat documents list a credit of $125,000 from Patrick in an account named International Port Services Account Training Group Pty Ltd.

But when ACTU Assistant Secretary Greg Combet asked Chris Corrigan: "Did Patrick Stevedoring accept any financial obligation at all in relation to the recruitment of personnel?", he answered, emphatically "No."

Conspiracy

And what of the conspiracy case? The union established a prima facie case in the Federal Court that Patrick and others had unlawfully conspired to sack an entire workforce merely for being members of a union and that this was in breach of the Workplace Relations Act. The case was settled out of court.

Corrigan paid all costs and dropped all litigation against the union, abandoning his attempts to replace the union workforce. The MUA dropped the conspiracy charges in return. Everyone went back to work. But many, both within the union and without, were disappointed they would never see Mr Reith, nor Mr Howard in the dock. Now the conspiracy may yet be exposed after all. The Labor Party's Lindsey Tanner has applied under freedom of information for all documents. The Government has refused to release them so the matter has been listed in the Federal Court.


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*   Issue 8 contents

In this issue
Features
*  Interview: John Coombs - The Mouse Who Roared
We talk to the man who stood firm in the face of the federal government’s all out assault on the waterfront 12 months ago.
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*  Unions: The Waterfront One Year On
One year after what was arguably the biggest Australian industrial dispute in living memory and the Maritime Union of Australia is STILL Here to Stay.
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*  History: Walsh Bay Wharves : Space and Place
For historians looking at a historic structure or site like the Walsh Bay wharves, there is a big difference between 'space' and 'place'.
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*  International: Compo Search for UK Coal Miners
An international search is on for former coal miners who worked mines in England and Wales from 1954 and have since suffered from chest disease.
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*  Review: War on the Wharves
Some of the most honest reporting of the waterfront dispute came from the pens of the nation's cartoonists.
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News
»  Angry Geeks Down Mouses in Industry First
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»  Patrick dispute commemorated
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»  Costa Pushes Social Audit Plan
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»  Currawong: Majority Support But Veto Rule the Hurdle
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»  A Firey Call: Give Currawong Back To The Unions
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»  ACTU Braces for Reith’s Second Wave
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»  Gordonstone Miners Come to Town
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»  Women Take the Fight to Rio’s Front Door
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»  Sydney Solictor Appointed ICTUR Secretary
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Columns
»  Guest Report
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»  Sport
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»  Trades Hall
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»  Piers Watch
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