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Minister says, since the end of January, the Maritime Union of Australia has been running a campaign to destroy Patrick Stevedores; denies Chris Corrigan set a precedent for other businesses dealing with workers.

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PETER CAVE: Joining us now in our Melbourne studio is the Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith;  he’s speaking to Matt Peacock.


MATT PEACOCK:  Peter Reith, the ITF is now back in business, threatening boycotts, if and when Patrick’s more important ships ever do leave the country, but your immediate problem, I guess, are those pickets.  Is it time Victorian Police cleared the wharf?


PETER REITH: Well, firstly, can I just say in respect of Sir James Killen, the….


MATT PEACOCK: Well, I’d like to talk about that in a minute….


PETER REITH: Well, I’m very happy to talk about that, but let’s just respond … I mean, there are a number of things that could be said, but the most important factual thing to be said is that Townsville, in respect of its container traffic, is not world-class.  The only thing that’s world-class in Townsville has been bulk loading and the reason for that is because the MUA is not involved and that, of course, is the story right around Australia with bulk loading - that’s been the AWU, and they’ve been a much more reasonable crowd to deal with and that is why the containers, run by the MUA, is the ongoing problem.  And, in Townsville, they have all the rorts and the rip-offs and the 22.5 per cent leave loadings and the 27.5 per cent on long service leave….


MATT PEACOCK: So anybody who worked for Patrick deserved to get the sack?


PETER REITH: Well, I think the point that the Prime Minister was making is that, since the end of January, this union has been running a campaign to destroy their employer, and the employer has been writing letters to the rank and file saying:  if you keep maintaining industrial action against this business, we will lose business, you will ultimately jeopardise your own jobs.  Now, those….


MATT PEACOCK: Do you think Chris Corrigan’s actions were the actions of a good corporate citizen?  I mean, do you think he’s acted legally?


PETER REITH: I think … well, in terms of the legality, that’s a matter before the courts, and obviously, you know, there are going to be….


MATT PEACOCK: You haven’t had advice on it?


PETER REITH: There are going to be claims and counterclaims, appeals, applications for …. but let me just go back to the basic position:  the basic position is that, since the end of January, the MUA has been running a campaign to destroy Patrick and they’ve made no secret about it.  They have seen that company now find itself with accumulated losses of $56 million and a workforce that has not been prepared to allow the company to maintain any economic viability, and the bottom line was the company, after writing to each and every employee and informing them, face-to-face, said:  ultimately, there is a limit to how many dollars we can put in to subsidise your lifestyle.  Now, those are the facts and people need to understand that.


MATT PEACOCK: Okay, well, let me put some facts to you.  Like let’s imagine, for example, I’m a worker for Patrick, I pay my voluntary health fund deductions, I pay my superannuation;  now I’m out of a job.  It’s not the first time that Chris Corrigan has proposed this what your staff call the Cobar option, is it, and you support the idea of walking away from those….


PETER REITH: Well, Matthew, if you were a worker for Patrick, your average income would be $73,000, you would have five weeks annual….


MATT PEACOCK: But not all.  I mean, we’re talking about people working in the office, too.


PETER REITH: Well, with great respect, that is all of them, that is all of them.


MATT PEACOCK: You’re talking about secretaries in the Sydney office.


PETER REITH: Well, it’s very interesting, you know, Matt, that you haven’t appreciated the extent to which the union actually runs this operation.  Leaving aside the head office, in respect of the terminal, every job in the terminal is allocated by the union and every job is subject to a system of rotation by the union so that, in respect of every job, everybody can enjoy the double headers, you know, the double time and a half, the overtime culture, the rorts and the practices.  This union has made an art form of ripping off for themselves, because of their monopoly position, a wage deal and a set of remuneration and conditions, which no other working group of Australians have ever enjoyed and wouldn’t contemplate given the appalling low levels of productivity that we have.


MATT PEACOCK: Minister, the point that I’m getting at, this 300 million has been moved upstream.  We’ve got voluntary health deductions and those other things missing.  The Commonwealth Government, our money, tax money, is now guaranteeing to raise this $250 million to cover the missing money.


PETER REITH: Well, Matt, firstly, I think you are making allegations about the accounting arrangements within that company which are currently before the Federal Court, but let me say, there has been no….


MATT PEACOCK: But Chris Corrigan agrees that that money went back upstream.


PETER REITH: Well, as I understand it, he said that it went to the repaying of debts.  But let me say, all of those matters are before the Federal Court and there has been no finding of fact in the Federal Court, so let’s just, you know, let’s not just repeat the lies that we’ve had, and propaganda, from the MUA.  The simple point about this whole dispute in the end is whether or not Australia’s going to have a competitive waterfront, and I see, from the leader pages of the Economist - we’re talking about the international side of this - a very interesting article:  it says, ‘There is no room for old-fashioned union practices in today’s forward-looking Australia.’  And as people look at this dispute, I think … that is what the international community is looking at, not these bogus, empty threats from some, you know, tired union leader in the US who’s hardly got any members.  What the international community is looking to see is whether or not this country has what it takes to finally get rid of the rorts, rip-offs and inefficiencies and unreliability of the Australian waterfront.


MATT PEACOCK: And has Chris Corrigan set a precedent?  Do you think this is a precedent for other businesses?


PETER REITH: No.  That, again, is just a complete furphy being run by the Labor Party….


MATT PEACOCK: Well, ACCI says that they’ve taken lessons … any employer should take lessons from this.  I mean….


PETER REITH: Well, that is a … with great respect, I heard what Mark Paterson said, and that is a misinterpretation for your own purposes, of what he said.  What he said is and what is patently the case, that companies have been contracting in labour hire now for many years.  But as to whether or not this particular dispute is a precedent, I’d make two points:  firstly, when the pilots dispute was on, the Labor Party effectively engineered the sacking of those pilots, they forced other pilots on to individual contracts, they deregistered the union, they brought in the military and brought in foreign workers.  Did anybody get around saying, ‘Oh, this is a precedent for what’s now going to happen’?  No, they didn’t.  And the reason they didn’t was because it was a unique set of circumstances.  And what’s unique abut the waterfront, which has also been acknowledged by the Labor Party in their own reform process, and that is that here you have a monopoly position, ruthlessly exploited by a union that has never been prepared to sit down and discuss what we can do, sensibly and cooperatively, to achieve some real breakthrough and for Australia to at least be able to match, in a competitive sense, most of our competitors.


MATT PEACOCK: Minister, we’ll have to leave it there.  Thanks for joining us.


PETER REITH: Thank you.


PETER CAVE: Workplace Relations Minister, Peter Reith, was speaking to Matt Peacock.