Minister slams Svitzer rort

(uploaded 10 08 2022)

In an address to the business lobby Australian Business Group on 8th August the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations Mr Tony Burke has slammed Svitzer Australia and its actions in applying for termination of the existing Enterprise Agreement. Here is an extract from that speech:

"But an area that I’m increasingly concerned about and is timely today is the ability of business to make unilateral cuts to workers’ pay and conditions by the termination of agreements. I know this is an issue which will be further discussed at the summit, but I think it’s only fair that you get a very clear sense of my disposition on this issue. 

My starting point on face value is I cannot see how the tactic can be justified. The solution to a decade of wage stagnation cannot include a loophole which instead of stagnation causes wages to go backwards. Now, to be clear, I don’t seek to interfere with cases before the Fair Work Commission under current law. The commission’s job is to apply the current law. My job is to make sure the current law is justified and fit for purpose. 

Now, one of the disputes currently before the commission is under these very provisions where Svitzer is seeking to terminate an agreement covering its tugboat operators across Australian ports. If the termination goes ahead I’m advised it could result in pay cuts to the workforce of 40 per cent or more. So at a time we’re wanting to end wage stagnation, where we’re wanting to have a serious conversation about how do we get wages moving, on my desk I’m getting briefings about a section of the workforce potentially facing pay cuts of 40 per cent. 

Now, who are these workers? They’re the same workers who you’ll remember seeing them on the TV. And we were all applauding them saying, “Extraordinary what they’re doing.” They were putting their lives on the line to save a bulk carrier and its crew that was stranded off the coast of Sydney after a cable had snapped. They were treacherous images. The New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet described the work of these crews as heroic and incredibly impressive. And rightly so. 

But even where workers don’t make it into the news, the principle remains the same. If we have a national objective to get wages moving, a tactic that allows for 40 per cent pay cuts is not fair and it’s not in the national interest. As someone whose job is to determine whether the workplace relations framework is fit for purpose, I see this as a way to get out of freely bargained obligations, something we would not accept in the world of commercial or consumer contracts. It's more than a loophole; it’s a rort. And I’m disgusted that it’s even being tried. On this issue I reckon you’ve got my disposition now. 

Now, there may be room for a narrow exception, and I want to have this conversation – I’m sure it will come under the summit – where businesses that are, for example, facing imminent collapse where agreement terminations are likely on the evidence to ensure the ongoing employment of the affected workers. But that sort of discussion about where there might be an exception I’m on for. But simply permission for unilateral termination and wage cuts I’m not interested in".

To read the full speech click on the link below:

Minister Tony Burke slams Svitzer rorts 08 08 22.pdf Minister Tony Burke slams Svitzer rorts 08 08 22.pdf

Back off Svitzer

(uploaded 10 08 2022)

The three maritime unions held a rare joint national meeting of members to hear an update on the dispute with Svitzer over the company's application to termination the current [2016] Enterprise Agreement.

The joint stopwork meeting of Svitzer tug employees members of the Australian Institute of Marine and Power Engineers (AIMPE), the Australian Maritime Officers Union (AMOU) and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA/CFMMEU) was held on Friday 5th August to provide feedback about the long running dispute with Svitzer over the company application to terminate the current Enterprise Agreement and drive members conditions down to the legal minimum.

The current national Enterprise Agreement commenced in early 2016 and the unions have been negotiating with Svitzer since late 2019 to secure a replacement Agreement. So far this has proved impossible. In early 2020 Svitzer used the cover of the Covid pandemic to stall the process and then served up a list of 30 claims to reduce pay and conditions for their employees. The company claims would force tug crews to work longer hours and accept shorter breaks all of which will lead to greater fatigue in the 24/7 sector. The company also wants part time and casual employees to work for drastically reduced rates of pay. When the company put a similar proposal out to its employees to vote in 2021 it was rejected by 92% of the worker.

Subsequently, in early 2022 Svitzer applied to terminate the Enterprise Agreement which has generated another battle away from the bargaining table and instead at the Fair Work Commission with lawyers arguing the toss. The three unions are vigorously opposing the termination application.

During this whole protracted and frustrating exercise, rates of pay for the tug crews have been frozen. The covid pandemic impacted of towage operations for three months in 2020 but ever since the tugs have been assisting a strong and growing level of shipping around almost all ports.

Like parent company Maersk, Svitzer Australia is reaping in strong revenues and generating solid profits but it seem clear that there has been a corporate decision the exploit the pandemic to drive down tug workers pay and conditions.

The national stopwork meeting was conducted by videoconference and was attended by over 200 members in various locations including from tugboats, in union rooms and from members homes. The meeting was addressed by ACTU Secretary Sally McManus who reported on the recent Workers Delegation to Parliament which took the message to MPs that the Fair Work Act needs to change because it is not fair on workers as it is being used now.

The meeting reports also received reports from officials of the three unions and then several Svitzer employees spoke to three separate resolutions calling for Svitzer to back off, for the Federal Government to act and for the Svitzer global CEO to get involved and resolve the negotiations which have been running for three years.

Resolution 1:

This combined meeting of Svitzer tugboat employees calls on Svitzer Australia to withdraw its application to terminate the Svitzer Australia Pty Limited National Towage Enterprise Agreement 2016. Members of AIMPE, AMOU and MUA support the call of the three unions for Svitzer to use its time, resources and what’s left of its good name to resume enterprise bargaining with its workforce under the Fair Work Act.

Moved: Ken Blackband AMOU

Seconded: John Hartree AIMPE


Resolution 2:

This combined meeting of Svitzer tugboat employees calls on the Federal Government to take immediate steps to amend the Fair Work Act to make enterprise bargaining fairer for workers - as proposed by the ACTU. Most importantly, members of AIMPE, AMOU and MUA call for amendments to prohibit employers from seeking to terminate Enterprise Agreements in the sole pursuit of lessening workers’ pay and conditions.

Moved: Evan James AIMPE

Seconded: Tony Nealen MUA


Resolution 3:

The combined meeting of Svitzer tugboat employees calls on Svitzer Global CEO Kasper Nils to join, in person, with the Svitzer Australia management team and take immediate steps to resume EBA negotiations to achieve a fair and mutually agreeable outcome, giving tugboat workers certainty in their employment with dignified wages and conditions.

Moved: Rob Paterson MUA

Seconded: Vince Miragliotta AMOU


AIMPE joins Canberra delegation  

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AIMPE Federal Councillors Evan James (Svitzer Port Kembla) and Peter de Szoeke (Svitzer Sydney) participated in the ACTU workers delegation to Federal Parliament on 2nd & 3rd August.

The delegation was put together after discussions about the need to get the message to Canberra that the Fair Work Act needs to be changed.

The clearest example for AIMPE members at the moment is the use of the Termination of the Enterprise Agreement application by Svitzer.

This was the message that Evan and Peter gave to the numerous MPs that they talked with in Parliament.