Widespread strike action on the waterfront is now possible. Transport unions have arranged matters so that all of the major container stevedores are now operating with expired enterprise agreements.
The last major container stevedore had its enterprise agreement expire in June. Nation-wide and sector-wide protected industrial action by unions is now therefore possible under the Fair Work Act.
Some of those enterprise bargaining arrangements have in fact been expired for years because the unions have refused to make a new agreement.
It now appears that the reluctance to make a new agreement was part of a plan to make possible nation-wide and sector-wide industrial action. Having the power to call simultaneous strikes right across the waterfront boosts the bargaining power of the unions.
When a company has an expired enterprise agreement, its employees (via their union representatives) can take “protected industrial action”.
This means actions such as strikes, work-to-rule, go-slow campaigns and so on can take place in an attempt to encourage concessions from the employer. Industrial action typically (but not always) takes the form of a series of stoppages ranging from an hour to several days.
It is especially noteworthy that unions are seeking to impose a ban on their members from loading or unloading ships that have been sub-contracted from one stevedore to another.
If stevedores cannot sub-contract the ships then the stevedore’s bargaining power is reduced and the bargaining power of the unions is increased.
Protected industrial action is “protected” in that it is legal and the employer generally (but not always) cannot go to court to stop the industrial action.
An uninterrupted flow of foodstuffs, everyday goods, medical supplies, merchant and intermediate goods to Australian families, hospitals and businesses is vital to Australia’s national interest:
- Australia is the fifth largest user of shipping services in the world
- About 98% of our seaborne trade by volume, and 79% by value, depends on ocean shipping
- In 2018-2019, the total value of Australian exports was $373 billion while the total value of imports was $421 billion
- Seaborne imports and exports drive the Australian logistics sector. As a whole, the logistics sector in 2013 represented 8.6% of the nation’s GDP, and directly contributed $131.6 billion to GDP
- The logistics sector employs about 1.2 million people. That’s about 9.7% of the 12.3 million of all the people employed in Australia