Australian ports are facing a shake-up, with a collapse in cargo volumes sparked by the global financial crisis forcing unions and stevedores into negotiations over lay-offs.
The Maritime Union of Australia has confirmed that it was in talks with stevedoring company, Patrick to cut about 100 jobs and retrain other workers for new roles.
The move is being driven by a decline in activity on the wharves, with figures from the Australian Customs Service showing sharp drops in air cargo consignments and sea cargo manifest lines.
But both unions and Patrick were talking down the prospect of a repeat of the bitter conflict between stevedores and the MUA during the waterfront dispute of 1998, when the Howard government tried to push through reforms on the wharves.
Customs figures show a major drop in inbound air and sea cargo volumes. Last month, imported sea cargo manifest lines totaled 128,391 compared with a figure of 174,914 for February last year — a drop of 27 per cent.
A manifest line is a statement by the owner or master of a vessel to Customs about an incoming import. It typically refers to a container or a consignment of cargo, Customs said.
He drop in air cargo was less dramatic, with 706,945 consignments arriving last month February compared with 763,589 in February last year — a reduction of 7 per cent.
The assistant national secretary of the MUA, Mick Doleman, said the union had sent out expressions of interest for voluntary redundancies. The union boss said the move followed talks between the MUA and Asciano Ltd, which owns Patrick.
“I’ve been engaged in a series of meetings around the country with the workforce and the company, and the membership identified there is a drastic downturn, there’s no doubt about that,” Mr. Doleman said. “We’re not countenancing compulsory redundancies, but we are in a program of working with the company on voluntary redundancies.”
When asked about the scale of the job losses, Mr. Doleman replied: “In Patrick, you’ll probably see about a hundred people across the country … these redundancies have a direct correlation to the decline in the work.”
An Asciano spokeswoman confirmed the company was in discussions with the MUA regarding redundancies. “Patrick is considering a range of initiatives to reduce its labour costs in response to the reduction in trade volumes and our company-wide efficiency review,” the spokeswoman said.