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‘Sort this out’: Tony Burke slams DP World over wharfie pay dispute

Govt won't intervene in escalating waterfront dispute

Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke has slammed the motives of a foreign-owned stevedoring company involved in a deadlocked pay dispute against its workers – the biggest on Australia’s ports since the 1998 Patrick shutdown.

Dubai government-owned DP World and the Maritime Union of Australia have been at loggerheads for weeks over their latest enterprise agreement, and wharfies are involved in protected industrial action.

Burke met DP World and the union on Thursday and said he had no intention of intervening in the protracted dispute, which has caused disruptions at ports in four states.

Instead, both sides should “go to the table and sort this out”, he said.

But Burke saved his harshest words for DP World, which he accused of trying to seek special treatment from the federal government.

“The concept that where every other business in Australia is expected to negotiate with their workforce, but this business wants to rely on ministerial intervention, is not a view that impresses me,” he said.

“I expect them to do the same as every other business in Australia. I think, certainly, their presumption that they would find a political answer, rather than do what every other business in Australia is expected to do, was misguided. And I’ve made that clear to them.”

DP World, which runs several port terminals across Australia, is threatening to dock the wages of workers involved in industrial action.

Unions have called for a 16 per cent pay rise for its workers, bringing DP World into line with other port operators.

Burke said he was suspicious of the company’s claims that it was focussed on consumers potentially being affected by the industrial action, which has Fair Work Commission approval.

“I think Australians are sick to death of having highly profitable companies say everything is the fault of them having to pay their workforce the same as their competitors,” he said.

“But I have to say – I have trouble believing that DP World has the interests of Australian consumers at heart when it is being run by the same person who previously, when he was the CEO of Svitzer, made the announcement that he was effectively going to shut down every single major port in Australia.

“When someone’s got that sort of track record of being willing to announce that they will shut down every single port in Australia, and then comes around, moves to the next company, new dispute, and says ‘oh, this is all about trying to make sure that we don’t have an impact on the Australian economy’, it doesn’t start with a high level of trust.”

DP World has urged the federal government to intervene, claiming the industrial action had cost the nation $34 million a day and created a backlog of 48,000 containers.

The plea came after the FWC ruled DP World’s employees could stop work at the Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle terminals. A partial stoppage was also approved in Melbourne, after wharfies held work bans at all four locations last Friday.

Workers were approved to walk off the job for 16 hours, though their union must provide five days’ notice.

In an attempt to halt the protest, DP World Oceania executive Nicolaj Noes announced striking workers would not be paid until they returned to their normal duties.

“The decision of employees, who have been encouraged by the MUA to continue to refuse to perform their duties, is leading to loss of productivity and is devastating to our supply chain as well as economic output,” he said.

But MUA assistant national secretary Adrian Evans said workers remained steadfast.

“All delays and disruptions are the sole responsibility of DP World’s Australian boss, Nicolaj Noes, who failed to attend any of the negotiations held this week,” he said.

Meetings have stagnated, with management refusing to table a wage offer that could kick off meaningful negotiations.

According to the union, the company is continuing its attempts to slash penalty rates and remove key safety clauses.

DP World, the second largest port operator in Australia, has been accused of underpaying workers, forcing them to take annual leave and failing to pay employees who work weekends and public holidays.

“The company’s representatives continue to push for cuts to wages and conditions at the direction of their paymasters, the Dubai government, and squandered three days of meetings held this week with misdirection and obstruction,” Evans said.

“Customers of this multibillion-dollar company have every right to be frustrated with DP World’s refusal to negotiate but the MUA will not be bullied by the Dubai government and nor should anybody else.”

-with AAP

Topics: Tony Burke
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