A - I N F O S N E W S S E R V I C E


By CLARE KERMOND, Employment reporter

The Age
Monday, 2 February 1998

The controversy over attempts to set up a non-union stevedoring operation on Melbourne's waterfront widened yesterday, as unions claimed a serving member of the SAS was in charge of the project's security.

The ACTU said the involvement of the SAS officer was further proof that the scheme backed by officials from the National Farmers Federation at Webb Dock was being run by those behind the failed attempt in Dubai late last year to train serving and former army personnel as waterfront workers.

Officials from the NFF and the Maritime Union of Australia have been locked in battle on the Melbourne waterfront since last week after NFF officials leased part of the Webb Dock from the stevedoring company Patrick to operate its own business using non-union labor.

An ACTU assistant secretary, Mr Greg Combet, said the SAS officer had been employed by FBIS, the security company run by a former Victorian chief police commissioner, Mr Kel Glare, and hired by Patrick.

Union officials last night discovered a 1970s Ford Falcon, loaded with riot shields, parked near Gem Pier in Williamstown. Guards were last week seen boarding boats at the pier to transport them to the Webb Dock site, avoiding protesters. The MUA official who found the shields, Mr Michael O'Leary, said they were discovered after a tip-off from a source who said they were lent to FBIS by the Office of Corrections.

Unions said yesterday the shields were evidence of State Government involvement in the Webb Dock non-union labor push.

Mr Combet said it looked "more and more like there is some relationship with Dubai". He said if the riot shields came from Victorian prisons, the Government had serious questions to answer about its role in the scheme.

A State Government spokesman said last night the claims were being investigated.

A Department of Defence spokesman said he did not know if a serving member of the SAS was working for FBIS and could not check the army's records. He said the only serving army personnel allowed to work elsewhere were those doing training before leaving the army. FBIS International refused to comment last night.

Police are investigating an incident yesterday at Webb Dock that left at least two guards injured. Police said rocks were thrown at a bus carrying guards about 6.30am yesterday, shattering windows.

One female guard was taken to hospital with glass fragments in her eye.

The federal Workplace Relations Minister, Mr Peter Reith, yesterday condemned the violence as union thuggery. Mr Reith and the president of the NFF, Mr Donald McGauchie, called on the MUA to apologise for the incident.

The national secretary of the MUA, Mr John Coombs, said he was aghast that violence had occurred after the union's efforts to ensure the protest was peaceful. He said if a union member was found to be guilty of the incident, they would face expulsion.

About 200 protesters maintained their vigil at Webb Dock last night.

Copyright 1998 The Age Pty Ltd

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