Dock blockade a warning against union merger

Dock blockade a warning against union merger

James Paterson — Herald Sun — 14 December, 2017


Australia’s militant unions are again showing contempt for the public and the rule of law, with the MUA and CFMEU joining to blockade the Victoria International Container Terminal at Melbourne’s Webb Dock.

In what should serve as a warning about their proposed merger, the two unions have used everything from cars to oBikes to shut down operations at the wharf.

From November 27, the blockade has prevented 100-200 trucks a day from moving cargo off the docks, stranding more than 1000 shipping containers. One truck driver who attempted to drive through the blockade was allegedly assaulted and had his teeth knocked out.

The blockade is set to cost $100 million worth of business. But the real cost will come at the expense of the Victorian public, who will be deprived of everything from Christmas presents to lifesaving pharmaceutical products like EpiPens. Food shortages will force supermarkets to increase prices, while manufacturing companies’ supply chains will be disrupted and local farmers will be helpless to prevent their export products from rotting on the docks.

So why is the Victorian public being held to ransom? According to the MUA’s Will Tracey, it’s all about a single employee.

The worker in question did not have a Maritime Security Identification card, which allows workers to access secure areas.

That means the company cannot lawfully employ him in the role he had. A spokesman for the company has said the employee was let go because he misled them about his security clearance which he failed because of a criminal conviction that rendered him ineligible to be granted a security card.

The employee is telling a different story. But whatever the facts of the case, this is an issue that should be dealt with through the appropriate legal channels — if the employee believes he has been unfairly dismissed, he should take the issue to the Fair Work Commission.

It is completely inappropriate for the MUA to use this as an excuse to hold the entire state to ransom with thuggish tactics. All it does is highlight the contempt the militant wing of the union movement has for the wider Australian community.

This contempt for the Australian public is only matched by their arrogant disregard for the rule of law. Rather than complying with the Victorian Supreme Court’s injunction ordering them to lift the blockade, the MUA responded by calling in its mates at the CFMEU and rebranding the blockade as a “community protest” for which it was not responsible.

This conveniently allowed the MUA to deny any official involvement, while hundreds of union members were bussed in to man the barricades. This was a transparent attempt to get around the law. But it didn’t fool the Victorian Supreme Court, which on Tuesday found that the MUA had merely “outsourced” its dispute and ordered the CFMEU to abide by the injunction previously imposed on the MUA.

But contempt for the rule of law is nothing new for the union. The final report of the 2015 trade union royal commission found “a culture of wilful defiance of the law which appears to lie at the core of the CFMEU”. The Federal Court has come to similar findings, with Justice Jessup last year stating that its record of lawlessness “ought to be an embarrassment to the trade union movement” and Justice Flick declaring “It is… not possible to envisage worse union behaviour.”

This record of lawlessness should raise serious concerns about the proposed merger between the CFMEU and the MUA. Such a merger would create a super-union made up of Australia’s two least law-abiding industrial organisations. It would grant some union leaders enormous power that would almost certainly be used to strongarm companies and hold the Australian public to ransom. Blockading the Melbourne docks could become routine.

Unfortunately, because of changes made by the Rudd government, there’s very little that can be done to stop it.

Prior to 2009, the industrial tribunal had to consider the public interest in exercising all its duties. However, the Fair Work Commission no longer has to consider the public interest when approving mergers between industrial organisations.

This means there is less scrutiny of union mergers than the ACCC applies to mergers of private companies — which have to satisfy a public interest test.

The Turnbull Government has proposed legislation to fix this anomaly, but given Bill Shorten’s dependence on the union movement, it is likely to face significant opposition by Labor.

The Webb Dock blockade is just the latest example of the contempt Australia’s two most militant unions have for the Australian public and the rule of law.

It should serve as a warning of what will happen if they are allowed to merge.

This article originally appeared in the Herald Sun.

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