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Workers locked out as conflict between maritime unions and Svitzer intensifies

Workers locked out as conflict between maritime unions and Svitzer intensifies

Australia faces disruption in Christmas supply chains as Svitzer battles maritime unions in a situation compared to the Suez Canal blockage.

An escalating labour dispute between maritime unions and Australia’s largest tugboat operator threatens to disrupt Christmas supply chains and devastate ports across the country.

In response to what it described as “damaging” industrial action, Danish tugboat giant Svitzer will lock out 582 employees from 17 ports. Svitzer claimed that it made the decision following the Fair Work Act in response to ongoing union-organised industrial action, which has led to an increase in the frequency of strikes at Australian ports.

The Fair Work Commission, however, will hold a hearing tomorrow to determine whether to suspend or end Svitzer’s industrial action.

The company has been negotiating a protracted enterprise agreement with unions for the past three years.

In key ports, the company has a near-monopoly on hauling operations.

According to the company, the union strike has resulted in 250 instances of industrial action since late October, totalling 2,000 hours of work stoppages.

According to Splash247, Alison Cusack, principal lawyer at Melbourne’s Cusack & Co compared the impact of the industrial action on Australia’s supply chain to that caused by the Suez Canal blockage by the Ever Given.

The six-day blockage of the Egyptian waterway last year by a grounded box ship made major headlines and sparked significant supply chain concerns.

Svitzer Australia managing director Nicolaj Noes said, “We had hoped it would never come to a lockout. But we are at a point where we see no other option but to respond to the damaging industrial action underway by the unions. We’re such a key part of logistics in Australia so that if we don’t work, the ports don’t work.”

Paddy Crumlin, secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, claimed the company was acting in bad faith.

“Now they’ve decided to take a militant national action of shutting down the country’s ports because I guess they’re big and powerful, they’re heading for a $30 billion profit this year, and I guess size doesn’t give you much moral energy,” he said.

According to Crumlin, the company’s decision to hold off on finalising a new enterprise agreement had the effect of freezing employees’ pay.

David Elliott, the minister of transport for New South Wales, and representatives from Svitzer and the Maritime Union held crisis talks on Tuesday.

Tony Burke, the federal minister for workplace relations, told 2GB the circumstances made it imperative that the federal government’s labour-management reforms, which give the Fair Work Commission the power to settle unwinnable conflicts, pass parliament.

“The only time the industrial umpire can come in and make a decision is when both sides blow the whistle, and that’s just ridiculous,” Tony Burke said.

The unions have called for more strike action on Thursday, a day before Svitzer’s proposed indefinite lockout of 590 workers, in addition to extensive ongoing work stoppages.

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