The Federal Court has issued an injunction preventing 1800 DP World wharfies from taking strike action for six weeks until mid-March, despite it being legally “protected” action.

A union ballot in March 2019 resulted in 97-99 per cent support for industrial action, including unlimited strikes.

The temporary ban applies across all four terminals in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle.

This is the latest attack on the right to strike, in an unprecedented use of the law on the waterfront.

Under the Fair Work Act, bans on the outsourcing of work or automation, which threatens jobs at DP World, are not “permitted matters” able to be included in an Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA).

The union was attempting to negotiate a separate deed containing these clauses. The company has refused to sign and argued that upcoming strike action was illegal because the union had raised these issues.

The right to strike only exists for the most narrow purpose of negotiating over the terms of a new EBA.

Even then, the union must give the company three days’ notice of any action. Last year DP World successfully applied to increase this to five days—plenty of time to outsource ships.

Strikes against sackings, discrimination, government policy targeting workers, breaches of the EBA, or in solidarity with other striking workers are all illegal. 

DP World are on the warpath.

An MUA press release explained: “In the last year, DP World management have…[been] cancelling approved holidays, attempting to strip away social benefits such as income protection, sacking workers, docking pay, preventing workers from meeting with their union representatives, cancelling Christmas bonuses, and threatening the mass termination of 10 per cent of the workforce.”

There is an urgent need for the union movement as a whole to mobilise against and break the anti-strike laws, before they are used to completely break union power. The court rulings and penalties need to be met with further, widespread strike action.

On 1 May the maritime and construction unions in Sydney will hold a stop work rally under the banner of “Right to Strike, Social Justice, Climate Action”. Supporters of the right to strike should join them.

By Erima Dall

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