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Chairperson of the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority discusses progress of waterfront reforms with particular reference to redundancy packages

PRU GOWARD: And now to the vexed question of waterfront reform or wharf sackings, which is what it means in the end. Sixteen months ago, the Australian waterfront industry was put on notice. Work practices and excess labour on the wharves was putting Australia's export future at risk. Thousands of wharfies would have to go and work would have to change. In Sydney and Melbourne alone, 1,700 surplus jobs were identified and the in-principle agreement talks about 3,000 older workers going, around Australia, but the taking up of up to 1,000 younger employees.

Well, under the reform plan, redundant workers would be paid off with a package totalling about $100,000 each. The Federal Government has agreed to meet half the costs of the total bill, which is a staggering $145 million from Government, $145 million from employers. But what's happened 16 months later? - not a redundancy yet; the money is sitting there; and the Government has now had to back down on its plan to only start sackings when all waterfront plans were in place. Joining me now for an overview, Chairman of the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority, Peter Evans. Good morning.

Peter Evans, why no sackings yet?

PETER EVANS: Well, when you say `why no sackings yet', there have not been any watersiders leave the industry as a result of in-principle agreement .. I'm sorry, enterprise agreements being completed because the parties have found it a little more difficult and more complex negotiating the enterprise agreements, which in turn trigger the release of funds for the redundancy packages.

PRU GOWARD: Does that mean there's been a lack of will?

PETER EVANS: No, I don't think there's been a lack of will at all. I think that two years ago, when the parties decided what the program was going to be, they did not realise the complex nature of negotiating these agreements.

PRU GOWARD: Well, what's so hard?

PETER EVANS: Well, it's a completely new ball game for both parties, really, because the type of employment within the industry is being transferred from industry-style employment to enterprise employment, and that is quite a new feature for the waterfront industry.

PRU GOWARD: Do you reckon the Government has backed you up enough on this?

PETER EVANS: The Government has been very supportive. They've been very helpful all the way through. I'd say, of course, we have approved two such enterprise agreements in the last four or five weeks. One was National Terminals who completed agreements with the unions for both the ports of Sydney and Melbourne, and they have identified 461 positions that would be surplus there. And we've also approved a provisional agreement for the port of Cairns, which has the potential of reducing the numbers in Cairns from 23 to 10 people.

PRU GOWARD: So, you've got a total of 474 jobs now, earmarked to go.

PETER EVANS: That's right.

PRU GOWARD: When are they going to go?

PETER EVANS: They'll be going within the next month, Pru. The offers are being processed at the present time. The employees who are eligible for the package have seven days in which to respond to that, and those who respond and decide to take the package will be leaving within a week or two after that.

PRU GOWARD: So that's 474 people all at $100,000 a piece?

PETER EVANS: No, not necessarily. Of the 474 people, they're the people who have been identified as being surplus. Those who will leave the industry are those who have an entitlement under the early retirement redundancy package and, fundamentally, they're people in excess of 55 years of age.

PRU GOWARD: But at not necessarily $100,000 each?

PETER EVANS: No, it varies depending on length of service. That $100,000 though, is an average figure drawn across the estimate for the whole 3,000 people to go.

PRU GOWARD: So, we're still talking about a half a million just to get rid of these 474 people?

PETER EVANS: I don't know what the total figure will be, but if you take an average, yes, I suppose, it'd be pretty correct.

PRU GOWARD: Isn't the money being released without those enterprise agreements all being okayed? I mean, isn't that breaking the original idea?

PETER EVANS: No, the original idea was that the people would leave the industry when all of the enterprise agreements in one particular port were concluded. Now the parties themselves came to the conclusion, recently, this could be impeding the pace of reform. And some two weeks ago, the parties agreed that people would be able to leave the industry when the individual enterprise agreement has been concluded. And we, the Authority, have approved that arrangement because we see it as a step in the right direction.

PRU GOWARD: Because you're getting desperate.

PETER EVANS: No, not far from it all. It's just a lot more effective way of getting people out of the industry earlier, bearing in mind all of the parties still have a commitment to do that under the in-principle agreement.

PRU GOWARD: So there's 474 to go. How will work practices change? What have you actually achieved that will make it cheaper to export goods from Australia?

PETER EVANS: Well, work practices will change quite significantly, mainly by a very thorough training program being introduced, by the employees, the waterside workers themselves being required to be more multiskilled and do more jobs around the terminals. And also, if we take the National's agreement, which is a very good example, where agreement has been reached that where a watersider has his own particular job, is finished for one minute, he is then available to work where required. Now in the National's own agreement and using their statements, they estimate that the containers per waterside worker, per annum, will rise from 724 to 1,092, which on that alone is a productivity increase of about 56 per cent.

PRU GOWARD: And a big saving to export costs.

PETER EVANS: Obviously, yes. A very big saving to export costs.

PRU GOWARD: And this is to happen in a fortnight. Of course there's a total of 3,000 that were identified - how long before we see any more?

PETER EVANS: Well, I would be very hopeful that there will be something like up to 1,500 people will be available to leave the industry during 1991, and that is pretty much what the timetable provided for.

PRU GOWARD: It's pretty extraordinary that it's taken this long, isn't it, Peter Evans? You've got the Government kicking in $145 million. It's the sort of deal that unionists in any other industry would have to jump at.

PETER EVANS: Well, I don't think it's a matter of jumping at the money, nor do I think it's a matter of putting too much of a priority on the timetable, although the timetable itself is obviously quite important. The real important issue here is the quality of the agreement and the quality of the reform.

PRU GOWARD: Peter Evans, thank you for your time this morning. Peter Evans, the Chairman of WIRA.