On Sunday 9 April, wharfies and activists held a three-hour blockade of the Patrick terminal at Port Botany in Sydney, to protest the latest attempt at union busting on the waterfront.
Qube, led by ruling class warrior Chris Corrigan, is opening a container yard on the wharf on land subleased from the Patrick terminal, which will not be covered by an MUA enterprise agreement. They are trying to outsource wharfies’ work and create a second tier of sub-standard jobs on the waterfront.
The blockade of over 100 activists and wharfies chanted passionately “MUA–here to stay” and “Whose port? Our port? Whose jobs? Our jobs”. Supporters came from neighbouring terminals, as well as Newcastle and Port Kembla. Spokespeople from other unions including the CFMEU and International Transport Federation, plus NTEU and ASU members spoke to the crowd to lend support. Several trucks and security guards were turned away by the picket.
After three hours Patrick workers held a meeting and determined they could not go in to work the afternoon shift, and voted to go home. The company lost an 8-hour shift. The crowd pledged to return in bigger numbers to blockade again if Qube and Patrick refuse to budge.
Then, in a significant escalation, on Thursday 20 April, workers refused to load a train and began an almost 24 hour sit-in. Container-yard workers were driving boxes directly to the rail, expecting MUA members to then load them onto the train, despite Qube insisting the yard would have no impact on or interface with Patrick’s work, and would only be for empty containers. They were caught lying red handed.
Three workers were singled out and taken off pay. This was the trigger for the terminal-wide stop-work. One Patrick wharfie said the workforce was “filthy”, and pointed out that the company ignored a clause in the EBA that allows 72 hours to resolve such disputes.
The workers sat down in the lunch room and operations ceased. The following night and day shifts came through the gate, sat down and refused to work. At least two ships were left unworked in the port—one still had its hatch lids off, so it could not leave. Work did not resume until 2pm the next day.
Patrick is playing dumb, saying the site is not part of their business. But they are fooling nobody. Qube has recently bought out Patrick in a 50:50 joint venture with Canada’s Brookfield logistics company. This means Patrick is “leasing” the yard to its new owners.
The MUA is having none of it. Sydney branch Secretary Paul McAleer said, “Patrick’s attempts to compartmentalise the Port Botany Terminal by putting up flimsy fences to restrict job opportunities for our members is a sneaky, opportunistic plot to de-unionise the terminal, or at the very least to insource cheap labour.”
Chris Corrigan, outgoing Chairman of Qube, is the former managing director of Patrick who led the infamous war on wharfies in the 1998 waterfront dispute, when he sacked the entire workforce and replaced them with ex-army scabs trained in Dubai. Now, according to The Australian, “he prefers the challenge of a cycle ride in the Swiss Alps he now calls home.” But the evidence suggests his favourite challenge is still union busting.
Corrigan lost control of Patrick after the dispute, but has never taken his eye off it. He has reassembled many of the old Patrick executives under the Qube flag. Corrigan is staying on the Qube executive specifically to handle the Patrick takeover.
Qube is trying to rearrange and redefine cargo-handling jobs to give the MUA the least coverage possible, while themselves profiting from both port and landside operations. The ACCC warned of the enormous market power that would come from integrating Patrick and Qube’s port operations with the two largest land-based logistics businesses in Australia. Qube is currently developing the largest intermodal freight precinct in Australia—Moorebank logistics park—aiming to get containers out of Botany on freight trains, with NSW government support. Unsurprisingly, the disputed container yard is directly adjacent to the rail tracks.
In an early victory for the union, the Fair Work Commission (FWC) threw out Patrick’s attempt to charge the union with illegal industrial action over the initial picket. As Solidarity goes to press, another FWC hearing is taking place. The container yard has ceased loading trucks, during the talks. The union is fighting to have the container yard work recognised under a stevedoring award that could be covered by the MUA.
The union has received dozens of letters and photos of support, from wharfies and transport workers as far afield as Algeria, Iraq, Egypt, Morocco, Palestine, Indonesia, Malta, the US, India, Cyprus and Poland—amongst others! Unionist and activists in NSW should be ready to support further blockades at Patrick.
Send photos and resolutions of support to: Sydney Executive@mua.org.au
And post on social media with the hashtag #defendpatrickdockers