Almost half the workforce of Illawarra Stevedores is likely to be out of work after the business was taken over by Patrick this week.
Illawarra Stevedores (IS), which opened its doors for business in June 1998, closed them for the last time yesterday.
Garry Keane, the secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia's Southern NSW Branch, said the demise of the company wasn't news to the union.
"We've known it's been coming for a while," Mr Keane said.
"We'd been given a heads-up by Illawarra more so than Patrick's of what was in the wind.
"At the end of the day, they weren't going to survive. It's been quite a few years they've been hanging in by the skin of their teeth."
He said the company employed three permanent staff and roughly 40 casual employees.
Mr Keane said the MUA was still talking to Patrick about the future of the IS employees, but he expected at least half of them would go across.
As for those who weren't employed by Patrick, the news was very bleak.
"They were casuals at Illawarra and unfortunately the nature of casualised labour doesn't include redundancies in the mix," Mr Keane said.
"That's very sad because some of those guys have been there for 14 to 15 years."
Those who are employed by Patrick will be joining another casualised workforce at a port where Mr Keane said there is not really enough work to support two stevedoring companies (Qube also operates at Port Kembla).
"They're doing it fairly tough, there's not the work there," he said.
"I'm sure both those organisations would love to have more work available to them."
He said the lack of work was due to the downturn in the manufacturing industry, especially in the wake of BlueScope's decision to pull out of the export market.
"We've lost a fifth of the branch in the 18 months since the BlueScope announcement," Mr Keane said.
The closure of IS was the "demise of the last small operator" at the port that came out of deregulation in the late 1990s.
"We had a situation in Kembla where BHP did their own stevedoring and Patrick's was the other stevedore in the port," Mr Keane said.
"At that stage Patrick's were never utilised to 100 per cent - they still had reasonable idle time figured throughout the year.
"All deregulation did was saw us go from those two companies to, within several months, six companies out there all bidding for the same amount of work.
"The smaller companies that were profitable the bigger companies bought out at the end of the day and the independent operators basically hung in as long as they could."
A spokeswoman from parent company Asciano said Patrick Stevedoring had agreed to purchase Illawarra Stevedoring.
‘‘As part of the sale Patrick has agreed to provide employment to all permanent stevedores and a large portion of the casual stevedores,’’ she said.
‘‘We have not been able offer employment to all casual stevedores due to operational requirements for the business.’’