Svitzer provide tug services in a number of Australian ports. Photo: Svitzer
Tug boat engineers have taken strike action across a range of ports along the Australian coastline after the union representing tug engineers for Svitzer Australia announced wide-spread strike action.
Strikes began on Tuesday at Newcastle, Botany Bay, Brisbane, Melbourne and Fremantle (including the Kwinana bulk terminal).
“We can now confirm that the AIMPE (Engineers) has proceeded with industrial action as planned on Svitzer operated tugs,” the company said in a notice to customers.
Lengthy stoppages were announced at Geelong, Newcastle, Port Botany, Brisbane, Melbourne and Fremantle/Kwinana for various periods from January 12 to at least January 18.
Svitzer Australia condemned the strike action.
“The decision by the union… to proceed with rolling 12-hour stoppages at ports around the country will put jobs at risk and will cause economic harm across the economy, particularly to those businesses and workers attempting to compete internationally,” the company said.
Svitzer’s current enterprise agreement (EA) expired on 31 December 2015.
A new, single EA has been agreed and approved by the officers’ and deckhands’ unions, but a dispute has arisen because the AIMPE wants a separate EA for its own members.
It strongly objects to non-engineers having control over engineer issues.
Svitzer Australia, however, argues that the engineers’ conditions will be protected in the EA even though there is a single agreement.
“This industrial action is not only reckless but unnecessary,” the company said. “In response to this industrial action, we have decided that enough is enough.
“We have initiated the process which in the coming days will give our workforce the opportunity to vote to approve the proposed new EA. We are determined to do all we can to bring a speedy resolution to matter.”
The stoppages have been authorised by a Protected Action Ballot which saw over 90% of Svitzer Engineers in favour of taking action. The ballot was conducted by the Australian Electoral Commission and had a high participation rate of 71%.
“The AIMPE has sought further meetings with the company but Svitzer has not responded to our approaches and has instead commenced the process to ballot all tug employees for a combined agreement to cover its harbour towage operations,” AIMPE federal secretary Martin Byrne stated.
“AIMPE members have endorsed an extension of stoppages to Adelaide and West Australian Ports of Fremantle and Kwinana as well as a program of 24 hour stoppages in Newcastle, Brisbane, Melbourne, Geelong and Sydney/Botany from Friday 15 January 2016.”
“Port Kembla and Whyalla have not been included in the stoppages due to consideration of the state of the local economies and steel/iron ore production.”
Byrne repeated his earlier statements in the media: “AIMPE members hope that the company sees good sense in dealing with AIMPE for a separate agreement to cover Engineers.
“This has been the status quo for over 20 years and is the only effective way for engineers to retain their professional independence. ”
Cruise ships and defence-related vessels will not be affected by the stoppages as the union has stated that it does not want to adversely affect holiday-makers or national security.
This is an edited version of an article which originally appeared on ABHR affiliate site, Lloyd’s List Australia. Read the original here.