Patrick has threatened wharfies at its container terminals with an indefinite lockout in response to any further industrial action, as a bitter dispute over a new agreement drags on.

Patrick has refused to come to the table on issues of job security, allocation of labour, safety and redundancies. MUA members began nationwide strike action in January. In April, despite being threatened with a lockout, MUA members staged two 72-hour strikes in Fremantle and 48-hour stoppages in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. The dispute has cost Patrick $15 million so far.

MUA deputy national secretary, Will Tracey, said that, “the actions across the various terminals are because of both national and local claims, [but] the company seeks to shift the goal posts each time.

Instead of improving its offer, Patrick is now offering worse pay rises and refusing any back payment, arrogantly declaring these are “to offset the high cost to the business” of strike action so far.

Patrick’s Alex Badenoch has also blamed a, “business climate that has changed for the worse” and “the need to reflect external realities and pressures” for harsh EA conditions such as a below inflation 1 per cent pay rise in year one of the deal.

At Port Botany in Sydney, Patrick wants more labour for midnight shifts and weekends. In exchange for working extra nights and weekends the MUA has proposed additional job security and an increase in permanent jobs. Permanent workers would work a 32-hour week but remain on a 35-hour week wage. Permanent part-time workers would receive a 30 per cent increase in their guaranteed pay.

“Obviously no one wants to work at midnight or on the weekends and miss family time, so what we’ve basically done is we’ve increased the amount of midnighters and weekends and reduced the hours for the week by three,” said MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer.

“Any worker deserves a decent amount of justice and what we›ve seen, over recent years, is the whole system, basically, be exposed. I mean, all of workers’ job security is being traded away and hoarded in Panama bank accounts.”

In an act of desperation Patrick tried to bypass MUA negotiators and held a workforce ballot on the enterprise agreement—with 98 per cent rejecting it. Union membership and solidarity at Patrick is among the best in the country.

Patrick remains a major part of $9 billion parent company Asciano which just posted a $200 million profit in the first half of 2015-16. A takeover by Qube will proceed in June.

Despite Patrick’s threat to halt operations and lock out its workers, if the stand-off continues, more industrial action will be needed to stare the company down.

By Matt Meagher

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