Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
More procrastination on the waterfront

Download PDFDownload PDF






PARLIAMENT HOUSE, CANBERRA: Tel 0 6 2 7 7 4213, Fax 0 6 2 7 7 2 1 2 4


Yet another fizzer has been dished up on the waterfront with the final hour deal done by Senator Collins and the waterfront employers.

Despite its apparently tough threats to cease paying surplus employees, because "we just won't be able to continue to pay their wages' unless there is some viable funding alternative" and a definitive statement that it will not have the money to fund idle time

on the wharves in Sydney and Melbourne after September, the employers' body AEWL has turned to marshmallow and agreed to continue with the status quo until October 31 on nothing more than an oral promise of union co-operation from Senator Collins.

This makes a mockery of its claim, made as recently as 3 October, that "we are out of money to pay wages."

It is no wonder that the 93 wharfies in Sydney and 110 in Melbourne on the "transitional" or surplus lists were not trembling in their loafers.

The Government definitively refused AEWL's appeal for funding assistance - and quite clearly gives no credit to its claim that it cannot foot the wharfies' idle time bill.

The Government has no reason to take the employers' threats seriously.

AEWL told the Government in April, just before the Prime Minister's sweetheart package, that it could not continue the idle time payments and was on the brink of compulsory retrenchments. A week or two later, it was greeting the Prime Minister's renegotiated deal as "a very positive package".

Less than a week later, AEWL was again seeking Government assistance with funding idle time! Mr Hawke then acknowledged the need to "hasten enterprise agreements which are the key to surplus workers leaving the industry".

What we do know is that there are 700 surplus wharfies each day, and that they cost $2 million a month to subsidise.

What we do not know, since AEWL said so positively that it had no more money to pay them, is who is footing the bill. Or who footed the bill for the $250,000-odd over the last week while AEWL, the WWF and the Government played mouse and mouse.

Too much is left unexplained. If the employers could not, as they told the Government, continue funding idle time beyond the end of September, who is now going to carry those

ν ϋ . . ' ■ l a j > i

P A R L IA M E /.!·,'/ LIBRARY MiCA.i

costs until the "new" deadline of the end of October? That $2 million monthly bill will still be there, and users of the ports had better exercise due vigilance!

This deal has been described by one waterfront employer as an "absolutely cast-iron guarantee" of reform. Since, by the admission of the Chief Executive of AEWL, the only assurance he has is an oral message supposedly "guaranteeing" the co-operation of the unions in wrapping up the outstanding enterprise agreements in the main city ports by the end of October, it is anything but cast-iron.

It is no more than yet another unenforceable "fix" which side-steps yet again the urgency of reform.

Even if this "fix" sticks, it leaves the basic problem of labour inflexibility, which the employers recognise all too clearly as the real reform requirement, still in place awaiting the next crisis. In the meantime, Australia's waterfront is at best marking time, while the

rest of the world marches further away from us.

Ends.... 7-10-91

.WR97/91 Contact: John Wallis

A/H 06 295 6796