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Wages umpire seeks to block port lockout

Tugboat operator Svitzer says an employee lockout is the only option left open to the company.

Tugboat operator Svitzer says an employee lockout is the only option left open to the company.

The industrial relations umpire is considering the suspension of looming action by a major tugboat operator due to fears it could damage the economy.

The Fair Work Commission will hold a hearing later on Wednesday to determine whether to stop an employee lockout by tugboat operator Svitzer.

Svitzer had planned to lock out more than 580 workers indefinitely from Friday from 17 ports.

The company had been working to finalise an enterprise agreement for workers for the past three years. It had called for the lockout after weeks of strike actions from unions.

Following the lockout threat, the Fair Work Commission wrote to Svitzer threatening to stop the industrial action.

The commission cited the industrial action having the potential to “cause significant damage to the Australian economy”.

“Svitzer’s announcement has caused the commission to consider making an order on its own initiative to suspend or terminate protected industrial action by [the company],” the commission said in a statement.

The threat of the employee lockout had led to fears the action could cause supply-chain chaos in the lead up to Christmas.

Should the commission decide to terminate the lockout, it would end protected action in the industrial dispute.

The commission had suspended strike action earlier this year due to economic fears.

“These findings give rise to a concern that the protected industrial action recently announced by Svitzer may similarly threaten to cause significant damage to the Australian economy or an important part of it,” the statement said.

Svitzer managing director Nicolaj Noes said in a statement on Tuesday the lockout had been the only point of action left.

“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,” he said.

“Svitzer has an obligation to serve its customers safely, reliably and efficiently and to ensure imports and exports, and our nation’s trade and supply chains run without disruption.”

-AAP

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