Port Kembla wharfies fear pay threat

Hundreds of Port Kembla dock workers could lose penalty rates and face longer working weeks if three major stevedoring companies win their bid to have working conditions changed.

In a move that has angered the Maritime Union of Australia, Qube, DP World and Patrick Stevedores – two of which provide stevedoring services in Port Kembla – have filed a joint submission to the Fair Work Commission review of the award covering stevedoring, seeking to increase workers’ 35-hour working week and change penalty rates.

The submission, which proposes to increase wharfies’ hours to 38 a week and simplify the number of penalty rates used, has been labelled as a ‘‘disgraceful attack on working conditions in the industry’’ by Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) southern branch secretary Garry Keane.

‘‘Penalty rates and the 35-hour working week were never given to this industry by any company or government, they were won by workers through long and bitter struggles,’’ he said. ‘‘They weren’t just thought up, they were put there as suitable compensation for what people have to go through to work [in this industry].

‘‘When you’re working midnight shifts in the middle of winter, standing on steel decks with the chill seeping through your boots and the wind-chill coming straight off the ocean...or you’re working in 35 degree-heat loading steel cargo that will burn your hands when you touch them, it has long-term health implications.

‘‘Aside from that we’ve got the highest rate of divorce in any industry, broken families and high suicide rate...it is  detrimental to a sustained family lifestyle.’’

The companies are pushing for a number of other changes, including reviewing the system for cashing out personal or carer’s leave and putting an end to workers receiving a day in lieu as well as high penalty rates on major public holidays.

Around 550 workers would be impacted at Port Kembla if the changes are adopted.

The Fair Work Commission is reviewing the award under a broader four-year review of all modern awards.

The MUA plans to file a submission detailing its opposition to the proposed changes.

Mr Keane said the cost-cutting measures were a direct result of the privatisation of the ports.

‘‘This is one of the things we warned about when the privatisation of the ports was first flagged,’’ he said.

‘‘Basically you have a deregulated system of charges to the stevedores now, who then turn around and try to recoup as much as they can through cuts in their business, which directly impacts the workers.’’

It was a sentiment echoed by Labor Member for Throsby Stephen Jones.

‘‘I was always concerned about the privatisation of the port and the impact it would have on the workforce and...if these changes go ahead it would prove that some of those concerns were well placed,’’ he said.

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