DP World hopes conciliation talks with Australian port workers will end dispute

DP World's Australian subsidiary will hold meetings with the Maritime Union of Australia after it was given the go-ahead by the Fair Work Commission last week.

DP World is hoping that conciliation talks in Australia in the new year will bring some respite to its operations in the country, after a series of bitter disputes in recent months with local trade unions over pay and working conditions at its four port facilities.

The UAE-based ports operator’s Australian subsidiary will hold meetings with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) after it was given the go-ahead by the Fair Work Commission last week.

The first meetings have been scheduled for January 7 and 8.

“An agreed framework is now in place between DP World Australia, the MUA and employee bargaining representatives. This will allow us to proceed with constructive negotiations,” DP World Australia said in a statement.

“DP World welcomes these developments and a commitment from all parties to cease any further disruption over the festive season.”

The conciliation meetings come on the heels of a series of threatened strike actions from the MUA between December 11 through 17 at DP World’s facilities in Melbourne, Fremantle and Sydney.

The operator responded to the threats by locking out staff for the duration of when the strikes were due to occur.

DP World and the MUA have been gridlocked in acrimonious discussions over a new enterprise bargaining agreement – determining a series of factors related to pay and working conditions at DP World’s port facilities – since the start of the year.

The MUA has accused DP World, which also operates port facilities in Brisbane, of refusing “to negotiate in good faith on a new enterprise bargaining agreement”.

The union has accused DP World of trying to strip new employees of penalty rates, whereby workers are paid extra for working during weekends, public holidays, overtime and early morning and late-night shifts, effectively creating two levels of workers in one workplace.

Such penalty rates, set by the Fair Work Commission, have come under attack from Australia’s Liberal Party government, elected to office in September last year.

The MUA is also protesting against the decision by DP World to lay off 12 workers at its Fremantle facilities at the end of the year.

DP World has, in turn, accused the MUA of asking for unreasonable pay increases of 4 per cent or more, describing the 2.8 per cent increase it has offered as “generous” and above the rate of inflation.

The company has also claimed that the union failed to respond to an enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA) offer made on December 8, the eighth in the past 11 months, and had objected to referring the negotiations to the Fair Work Commission.

This month’s actions by the MUA follow a series of strikes by the union’s members in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in September and October.

There was a similar stoppage in DP World Australia’s port in Fremantle at the end of July.

A person close to the process said that negotiations about enterprise bargaining agreements are often long, drawn-out affairs, noting that the previous EBA between the DP World and the MUA took 14 months to finalise.

DP World entered the Australian market in Adelaide (subsequently sold off) and Brisbane through its takeover of CSX World Terminals in 2004, followed by its acquisition of P&O in 2006, giving it a presence in Sydney, Fremantle and Melbourne.

The company sold a 75 per cent in its operations in the country to Citigroup’s Citi Infrastructure Investors for A$1.5 billion in December 2010, as part of its efforts to reduce its debt following the financial crisis of 2008.


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Published: December 21, 2014 04:00 AM


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