If - Technische Universiteit Eindhoven


If - Technische Universiteit Eindhoven

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Day 107 of the waterfront dispute

Australia, being an island, relies for about 80 percent of its international trade on the

efficient handling of the cargo at the nation's wharves. The handling of containers

on the Australian waterfront however is not very productive nor reliable, both due to

the power of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA), which has a monopoly on the

labour supply in the ports. Patrick Stevedoring, the biggest stevedore in Australia

decided to deal with this issue by sacking their whole workforce to improve the

workpractises: Waterfront Reform in Australia.

Marion Kloos

As a stevedore, your customers are

the shipping lines, which berth at

your wharves. The premium selling

points for a stevedore are 1) the

efficient loading and discharging of

their customer's ship; 2) a reliable

operation and 3) the avai lability of

berth space. When we translate this

into internal measures the terminal 's

objective will be to 'work the ship'

within the specified time frame for

the lowest possible costs. If the

sh ipping line wants to have their ship

sai ling at 4pm on Monday, and you

achieve that, you have a happy

customer, and that's what it's all


Patrick Stevedoring tries to improve

the quality and the service level to

their customers on a continuous

base. With only marginal

improvements to be achieved, there

seemed to be only one way to substantially

increase its performance:

rethink the workpractises. With

labour costs of 63% of the total

revenue, this seemed to be a valid


Starting off with discussing this issue

with the MUA, Patrick soon

discovered that the MUA was not

wi lling to improve workpractises

without achieving any significant

benefits for their members. Instead,

they directed their members to go on

a ' go slow' to show Patrick their

power to ' make or break' the

company. After years of negotiations,

Patrick decided that there was only

one way out: breaking the union 's

monopoly on the supply of labour.

Waterfront Reform

It all started of with training of exarmy

personnel at the Port of Dubai.

When the union discovered that

Patrick was involved m this

operation, they went on a national

strike, day 1 of the waterfront

dispute. Although nobody knew what

was coming up next, it was war

between the two camps, the Union

and Patrick.

When the ' Dubai-exercise' failed,

Patrick fo und a willing partner in the

National Farmers Federation (NFF).

They leased some of Patrick's land

and equipment and started training

their own non-union labour force.

Backed up by the government who

had ' Waterfront Reform' as a priority

on their list, it was quite clear who

was supporting who in this dispute.

It all went out of hand when Patrick

decided to sack all its wharfies

(dockworkers) and replace them with

non union labour who were trained


by the NFF at the 7th of April 1998.

It was about midnight when security

guard came in to remove everybody

from Patrick's wharves, not without

any resistance of course! Two days

later the new workforce came in and

took over. A new company started!

This new company hired the labour

that was trained by the NFF and

started at Patrick terminals around

the country. A prosperous future,

with a workforce eager to work

under the new work practises. In the

meanwhile, the wharfies set up

pickets outside the gates for their so

called ' Peaceful Assembly'. By

doing this, they denied truck access

to the terminal and limited the

opportunity for Patrick to receive or

deliver containers via the gate.

The question that everybody then

asked was quite clear: ' What is this

all about?' The answer however is not

that clear. Different parties have

different objectives. The NFF wants

to lower the costs of handling their

products at the nation 's wharves.

Patrick's wants to improve their

performance and reduce their costs.

The government wants to make

Australia's waterfront competitive

with other ports all over the world.

And last, but certainly not least, the

MUA, they want to secure their

member's jobs at the Australian


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