A tug crew lockout threatens major disruptions in ports across the country, potentially causing supply chain chaos in the run-up to Christmas.
Tugboat operator Svitzer said it would indefinitely lock out more than 580 workers from 17 ports in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia on Friday.
Svitzer has spent the last three years finalizing a company agreement for employees. It has moved to lockout after nearly 2,000 hours of union action in the past month.
“We had hoped that it would never come to a lockout, but we are at a point where we see no other option than to respond to the harmful industrial action that is underway by the unions,” said general manager Nicolaj Noes.
Paddy Crumlin, national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, said the company would throw Australia’s supply chains into chaos and have an “extraordinary” effect on businesses and consumers.
Labor Relations Minister Tony Burke said the government’s labor relations reform would help end such protracted fighting.
“I am devastated by the way the whole dispute has turned out,” he told 2GB on Tuesday.
“I want a situation where the industrial arbiter can come in and settle it, and the laws to do that are now in parliament.”
Asked about the potential threat to the supply of COVID-19 vaccines, Health Secretary Mark Butler said such disputes “could disrupt port operations”.
“There are several portfolio interests, including drug delivery, so we’ll talk to all departments about that,” said Mr. Butler.
NSW Transport Minister David Elliott described Labor’s claims that the bill would help resolve disputes as “bollocks”.
“In the last 24 hours, we’ve seen industrial harmony go back 25 years, and we can’t live in a society where our entire country’s trade has been interrupted,” he told Seven’s. sunrise.
Mr Elliott accused the unions of treating the Australian economy like a “toy” as it recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It is not the time for unions to put a stranglehold on trade because we will feel very lonely this Christmas with the difficulty of getting ships to and from our ports,” he said.
“This is going to be a difficult time and the unions are not playing fair.”
Mr Elliott was due to be involved in emergency talks on Tuesday.
Steve Knott, CEO of the Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association, said the Labor government’s changes to labor laws were not the solution.
He said it was worrying that Mr Burke’s initial response was to introduce a bill that failed to win support from employers and the Senate.
“The employer had no choice but to exclude employees because it was unable to safely and effectively perform its contractual work,” said Mr Knott.
“Mr. Burke has existing powers under current employment laws to intervene and end this dispute.”
– with AAP