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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 2228

Mr COBB(7.15) —Tonight I wish to speak about an outrageous strike on the New South Wales waterfront that held up the export of grain worth millions of dollars from farmers in New South Wales. I refer to the strike which finished today at the Newcastle Terminal and the Glebe Island Terminal in Sydney. It was one of the most ridiculous strikes in a long line of strikes that have plagued our waterfront, especially the grain loading operations of our waterfront, in recent years. This strike started last Friday because an employee of the Grain Handling Authority of New South Wales, a Mr Allan Johnson, was dismissed because of persistent absenteeism. As a result, all Australian Workers Union members walked off the job for an indefinite period demanding the man's reinstatement and the GHA stood down all Public Service Association employees at the Sydney terminal. Following this the PSA called out all its members in Newcastle and because the AWU members could not be usefully employed, they were stood down too. So we had this ridiculous situation.

I wonder whether the individual union members knew what they were striking for. I wonder whether the individual union members were told why they were striking instead of just being told by their union representatives that they had to go on strike. It is interesting to look at why Mr Allan Johnson was stood down. Each employee is entitled to 10 sick days per year without a medical certificate. However, if he stays in his job for three years he can take 20 sick days a year and if he stays five years he can take up to 30 sick days a year. One wonders when it will end. That in itself is an outrageous work practice. However, this gentleman took 17 days off in 1985 and 30 days in 1986 and he was told several times to produce a medical certificate. He got two more warnings in January and April of this year but he took no notice of them. He was advised that unless he produced a medical certificate he would be dismissed. He still defied the GHA, so he was eventually fired.

It is interesting to look at the real reason why the men walked out. Twenty-five out of the 112 AWU members at Sydney have now had more than 10 days sickies and are therefore what is called `on certificates'. Therefore, this dismissal is causing what an organiser and advocate for the AWU, Mr Trevor de Costa, calls a morale problem. That is, the union is concerned that more than 20 or so of its members could be dismissed if they continue to abuse the system. However, the sacked worker about whom I am talking tonight has taken over 57 sickies in all--

Mr Tim Fischer —Shame!

Mr COBB —It is; it is outrageous. Some 36 of them were taken without a medical certificate. By any stretch of the imagination, this employee had been given more than a fair go. The situation with the GHA in New South Wales is truly abysmal. In March this year the average level of absenteeism each day was 37 out of the 180 PSA and AWU employees-more than 20 per cent. In January the figure was even worse; 48 on average-27 per cent were absent each day. For the first three months of this year 19 were absent each day and this figure does not include recreational leave or workers compensation. The level of absenteeism on the day shift is four times higher than that of the afternoon shift. The reason for that is that an employee gets paid time and a half for the afternoon shift. I think that fact alone indicates how fair dinkum members' absenteeism claims are.

This strike about which I am talking-I have pages of information on strikes to which I could refer-held up three ships at both Sydney and Newcastle, each of which was about 50,000 tonnes. Demurrage ran into thousands of dollars a day. Sales were being lost; markets were being lost and this loss is ultimately passed back to the wheat growers such as those in the Parkes electorate. There is a chronicle on strikes and this is only the last of many. The actions of these men could almost be regarded as treasonable actions against Australia, particularly when this country has an overseas debt of almost $100,000m.

Mr Peter Fisher —Was he really sick, though?

Mr COBB —I very much doubt it. One GHA employee was recently dismissed. He was off on workers compensation and he was dismissed because some of those in authority at the GHA saw him on television playing football for South Sydney. This is the sort of thing that is going on. It is absolutely outrageous. One ship that came into port on 21 December last year did not get out until 5 January. It loaded 47,747 tonnes and lost $27,000 on the whole operation because of the penalties, strikes, et cetera. The ship was screwed to the limit over the holiday period. That ship will not be back. The whole GHA operation is inefficient and rotten to the core. The National Party and the Liberal Party, when returned to government in New South Wales and in Canberra will clean up this mess, put in private enterprise contractors and place the New South Wales waterfront on a proper commercial footing.