Workers at the Port Kembla Coal Terminal (PKCT) have stepped up industrial action as Fair Work prepares its decision on whether to terminate their enterprise agreement.

After a four day lockout in January, workers were locked out on 15 February, and again on 3 March.

“It’s tit for tat,” one worker explained, “Every time we put on work bans, they lock us out and bring in the scabs to turn the ships around as quickly as they can.”

CFMEU members and supporters have rallied outside the terminal with placards saying: “PKCT is attacking my future” and “They rob workers to pay managers”.

The workers have combined one-hour stoppages with bans on driving within the terminal, so that it takes them 25 minutes to walk across the terminal to get to the machines, and 25 minutes to walk back again!

With a ship in port on 15 February, PKCT locked out the workforce after they stopped work for the second time that day. One employee estimated the workers had taken 30 hours of strikes and stoppages since the company locked them out for four days in January.

While industrial action has shown their power to hit the company’s profits, PKCT is also undermining action through using lockouts to operate the terminal with scab labour (including supervisors, ex-employees and a crew brought in from Newcastle).

The lockout follows PKCT’s latest disgraceful “offer” of an agreement that would cut wages by up to 15 per cent, and cut additional superannuation contributions by up to 9 per cent. Management also wants a clause that will allow second tier conditions for new employees. The 60 workers overwhelmingly rejected the insulting offer.

To try and force them to accept the deal, the company has applied to the Fair Work Commission to terminate their existing enterprise agreement. It’s a vicious and increasingly common employer tactic to threaten workers with much lower award rates.

The hearings have been extended until the end of March and a decision could still be weeks away.

Paul, one of the workers, told Solidarity, “Multinational companies that pay no tax in this country are using the Fair Work Commission to help achieve their goals in breaking unions and workers. It’s time for all of us to stand up and fight back”.

This is just the latest in a string of companies—including Murdoch University, Streets and Glencore at Oaky North—who have threatened to terminate agreements.

The Port Kembla workers have taken strike action, and brought a busload of workers to each day of the Fair Work termination hearing. On the second day in late February around 100 unionists joined them to rally outside the hearing. ACTU leader Sally McManus addressed the crowd, including construction workers from the city, and members of the MUA, AMWU, CPSU and TCFUA.

If Fair Work does rule to terminate the PKCT agreement, hard-won conditions will be under threat. Solidarity action from across the union movement will be needed to make sure that the PKCT workers are not left to fight alone.

Strike action backed by mass pickets that completely shut down the terminal and stop scab labour getting on site are needed. This is the way to deal a decisive blow against the company—even if it means defying the law.

By Erima Dall

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