Solidarity With Tugboat Workers

John Gowland

Almost 600 tugboat workers have been threatened with an indefinite lockout from 17 ports this Friday (18th November). Tugboat company Svitzer has dodged and delayed negotiations with workers who have suffered an effective wage freeze since their agreement expired in 2019. If the company’s irresponsible action is allowed to go ahead it will cause chaos at Australian ports in the lead up to Christmas.

Unions representing workers, the MUA, AIMPE, and AMOU, have been attempting to negotiate a new workplace agreement with Svitzer for the past four years. The company has refused to negotiate in good faith and is seeking to have the agreement terminated and return workers to the base Award conditions. The ‘offer’ by Svitzer would result in 47% cuts, casualisation and threaten safety standards.

As pointed out by the MUA the lockout is “a massive escalation of the simmering industrial conflict being waged by Svitzer Towage’s Australian management.” Svitzer’s parent company is on track to deliver more than $30 billion in profits. The war chest they have amassed through the pandemic will now be utilised to attempt to crush workers. The Fair Work Commission is set to deliberate on the matter with unions seeking to delay any action until after Christmas so negotiations can continue, while the company is pushing for termination and a mediated settlement. 

That a multi billion dollar company can utilise the ‘Fair Work’ legislation to avoid negotiating with workers highlights the broken industrial relations system. While the Labor government has intervened in the Fair Work Commission deliberations and has condemned the actions of Svitzer, their proposed amendments to the industrial relations system are a band-aid on a gaping wound.

Svitzer holds a near monopoly on tugboat services in Australia which play a key function in supply chains. The sector is too important to be left in the hands of irresponsible profiteers and should be immediately nationalised under workers control and management. 

These dodgy companies cannot not be allowed to get away with such an attack on workers. Socialism TODAY, the Australian section of the CWI, give our full support and solidarity to the tugboat workers. Trade union activists should raise solidarity resolutions in their branches and call on the ACTU to organise solidarity actions including coordinating strike action in support of tugboat workers.

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