Sacked wharfies are continuing to maintain a “community assembly” and protest camp outside terminals run by Hutchison Ports Australia in Sydney and Brisbane, demanding re-instatement.
Ninety seven workers, almost half of Hutchison’s workforce, were informed they had been sacked via a text message at midnight on 6 August. The sackings were targeted at workers active in the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), with all members of union and safety committees at Port Botany dismissed and a similar pattern in Brisbane.
The entire Hutchison workforce took immediate strike action against the sackings and maintained picket lines which shut down both terminals for more than a week. This fantastic action took place in defiance of orders from Fair Work Australia.
The MUA stopped the strike on 14 August, following a ruling by the Federal Court that Hutchison place sacked workers back on the payroll until October 14, allowing more time for negotiations between the union and the company. But the ruling did not compel Hutchison to roster on the sacked workers and they remain locked out.
Despite no longer obstructing Hutchison business, the community assemblies have come under attack. On 3 September, a co-ordinated effort from Hutchison saw both the Brisbane and Sydney Port authorities issue the assemblies with a “notice to vacate” and threatened police action to evict the camps. Snap rallied attracted more than 200 supporters and forced a backdown.
We should not be discussing how to manage redundancies—there is no reason for Hutchison to sack anyone. They are the biggest stevedoring company in the world, with a multi-billionaire owner who can easily afford to keep the workers on. The state government poured more than $1 billion of public money into constructing the new terminal—they should be forced to guarantee people are employed there.
Maintaining the assemblies will be crucial for building pressure on Hutchison to re-instate the workers, and could become an important launch pad for escalating the dispute and re-initiating industrial action. Hutchison are currently sub-contracting ships to rival terminal DP World, while they try to grind the sacked workers into submission. Action across all terminals at Port Botany and Brisbane could create a more general crisis and force a back down.
By Paddy Gibson