A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E
Secret bid to stem dock war
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By EWIN HANNAN and CLARE KERMOND
The Age Melbourne Online Friday 30 January 1998
The Federal Government has secretly commissioned legal advice to combat any international union blockade resulting from the dramatic emergence of non-union operations at Melbourne's Webb Dock terminal.
As the dispute at the dock remained at flashpoint last night, Government sources revealed the advice was sought after the Maritime Union of Australia successfully called on international union support during the Cairns and Dubai disputes over non-union labor last year.
It is believed the legal advice indicates action could be taken by the Federal Government to ensure a third international union blockade could not succeed.
But the national secretary of the MUA, Mr John Coombs, said the dispute would be bigger than those which flared in Dubai and Cairns.
"It's the Government that's running this," he said.
"This company is only a pawn, the NFF is a pawn. This is being driven by Peter Reith's office. It's about getting us in the Federal Court, stripping us of our assets and destroying the union.".
In other key developments yesterday:
Toyota said an estimated $16 million shipment of new Camry vehicles thought to be bound for the Middle East had been delayed after unions refused to bow to threats of massive legal action and abandon their protest.
The ACTU claimed unions had new evidence to link the National Farmers Federation-backed company to the failed bid to train serving and former army personnel in Dubai to work on Australian ports.
The NFF president, Mr Donald McGauchie, denied any link to the Dubai scheme, but ACTU assistant secretary, Mr Greg Combet, said "two reliable sources" had approached the ACTU yesterday claiming the NFF was linked to the company behind the Dubai exercise, Fynwest. "One of them indicated that one of the drivers of the buses that took the security guards into Webb Dock was a personnel officer for Fynwest in Dubai, and the other source indicated that the so-called trainees in the Dubai operation have been contacted today and asked to be on standby to take up a position fairly soon," Mr Combet said.
"There's every chance that this may be the Dubai operation with the curtains and the smoke removed."
The Prime Minister, Mr John Howard, and senior ministers hailed the decision by the nation's largest stevedoring operation, Patrick, to sub-lease part of Webb Dock facility to the company, the PCS Group, run by NFF officials.
Mr Howard accused the MUA of "talking up" war on the waterfront and denied the Government wanted to smash the union.
The MUA yesterday received the widespread support of key unions, but the ACTU said the union movement would not be drawn into major industrial action by the Government.
It is believed the PCS Group is considering a range of legal remedies against the union, including action under the Crimes Act. The Minister for Workplace Relations, Mr Peter Reith, said the Government would support any legal action taken by the company.
Patrick Stevedoring also vowed yesterday to use the legal system to bring an end to the dispute as soon as possible.
The director responsible for general stevedoring, Mr Don Smithwick, said the company had lost hundreds of thousands of dollars because of the dispute and the diversion of two ships yesterday.
"If it comes to that we will use every resource available to us . . . we have a significant investment to protect," he said.
Mr Smithwick denied the company was planning to use non-union labor. He said Patrick had leased surplus land and equipment to the NFF in a purely commercial decision because the company was losing money.
He said recently Patrick at Webb Dock had been losing $500,000 a month.
Two Japanese ships, both carrying cars, were yesterday diverted away from the Patrick site, docking instead at P&O at Appleton Dock. One of the ships was due to reload with the new Toyota Camry's bound for the Middle East, the cars are now under cover at Patrick's site. Mr Coombs said he was unconcerned about threats of legal action against the union. He said this was a low benchmark of industrial relations.
Earlier, the state secretary of the AMWU, Mr John Corsetti, visited the picket line to pledge the union's full support for the MUA.
Union leaders will meet at Trades Hall Council this morning to map out the next stage of their industrial strategy. Unions throughout key industries have pledged to take action in support of the MUA.
Subject: LL:AGE:Secret bid to stem dock war
The Age Melbourne Online Friday 30 January 1998
Linkname: The phoney war is over, now for the real fight
Linkname: Farmers' surprise role questioned
Linkname: The trials of a life on the wharf
Linkname: Unions allege Dubai link
Linkname: ABC News - Wharf picket could harm Toyota
Linkname: SMH - Govt offers loans to pay off dockers
Linkname: Tensions high in docks standoff
Linkname: Now the waiting game begins
Linkname: Wharf strikers risk huge fines
Linkname: NFF jumps at chance to revive support
Linkname: Cracks show in Labor loyalty
Linkname: Third time lucky for Reith?
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