Regional

Port strike, 1998 anniversary to coincide

By AAP Newswire

A four-day strike at a Melbourne dock is a 'union anniversary party' that is more about commemorating the infamous 1998 waterfront dispute than legitimate workplace matters, a peak industry body claims.

The Australian Logistics Council says industrial action against Qube Ports is "grandstanding" by the Maritime Union of Australia and will lead to increased shipping and consumer costs.

"If the MUA wishes to commemorate significant moments from its past, it should put together an appropriate anniversary event, instead of disrupting legitimate business activities on spurious grounds," managing director Michael Kilgariff said on Friday.

The 1998 waterfront dispute was triggered when stevedoring company Patrick Corporation locked out its employees and replaced them with non-union workers.

But MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin says it is "bullshit" to suggest the union launched the Webb Dock strike to coincide with the anniversary.

He added that "belligerent and arrogant" Qube Ports had provoked the protected action by moving to terminate the current enterprise agreement while negotiations were underway.

"They were hoping for a response and they got one," Mr Crumlin told AAP.

The union is largely pushing for the reinstatement of eight-hour rosters, because cargo volumes and workloads have increased, he said.

"There was an agreement that we should move back to the roster.

"When stevedoring workers are fatigued, accidents happen."

Qube Ports director Michael Sousa said the roster at the centre of the union's demands is "uneconomic" and has not been in use since 2014.

"We have spent more than two-and-a-half years negotiating and had 43 meetings with the MUA," he said.

"We have moved from having to reduce pay to being able to offer pay rises of close to 10 per cent over the next four years."

Car imports are unloaded at the Webb Dock, and the company expects the "damaging" strike will cause delays and lead to ships bypassing Melbourne.

Qube Ports will seek to renegotiate a new enterprise agreement in line with the award, if the Fair Work Commission accepts its application to terminate the current one, Mr Sousa said.

The MUA has merged with the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union and Textile Clothing and Footwear Union of Australia.

The union plans to commemorate the anniversary of the waterfront dispute with a function next week, Mr Crumlin said.