The new battle on Melbourne waterfront to defend rights at work

By Joe Montero

Last Friday, the Port of Melbourne was shut down by determined members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). They did this to send a message to tugboat operator Svitzer. The dispute is over negotiations for a new workplace agreement  have stalled for 18 months, causing growing uncertainty.

Supporters from other unions and the broader community came along to show their support.

Photo by Chloe DS: Maritime workers rally at the Port of Melbourne

The dispute is continuing.

The main concern has been a threat that the employer will undermine existing conditions. The union says that the company has been doing well and making billions.

Svitzer is owned by Maersk of Switzerland, which is the largest shipping company in the world.

The company refuses to share part of the gain with its workers. A $7 billion profit last year, to which these workers contributed, has not made any difference

Management has moved to increase the time seafarers must stay on board its ships without time off to go home and to family. The are forced to work long 12 hour shifts and get no penalties for working nights.

The stopping of tugboats means ships can’t come in or go out. It grinds the whole port to a standstill. One must be effective to protect conditions under threat.

Several significant recent industrial disputes in different parts of Australia over the threat posed by shipping companies.

Without a union willing to protect its members jobs and conditions on the waterfront and at sea would fall. This would play into the ambitions of the maritime employers . This is tun, would play into the hands of major employer groups across the economy.

This brings echoes of the 1998 Patricks waterfront dispute. It ended with a major win for the union, made possible by overwhelming public support that brought tens of thousands into active involvement.

Australia’s could be heading for another showdown on the waterfront.

The share for wages in the wealth of the economy is falling. Major employers and government want to extend this. The drive to casualise work and use this as a battering ram to force through substandard conditions and pay makes this clear.


Australian workers have little other choice but to fight back and avoid being pulled down into the conditions faced by earlier generations.

They fought back and won conditions that made all the difference. Today’s battle is to defend the gains of the past and move forward. The Maritime Union of Australia and its members are defending their turf.

The MUA and its members also have tradition of giving their support to other unions and workers.

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