More than 500 maritime and construction workers rallied outside the Fair Work Commission in Sydney on 29 May. The protest was initiated by the Maritime Union of Australia to demand the right to strike. Marching from Town Hall to the steps of the commission, the rally took aim at the industrial tribunal’s growing role in restricting workers’ rights.
“Wage growth is at historic lows. Employers are tearing up legally binding enterprise agreements and locking out workers who try to negotiate better wages and conditions”, said Paul McAleer, Sydney MUA branch secretary.
Highlighting how difficult it is for workers to stop work in any circumstance, the MUA cited an example from Hutchinson Ports earlier this year in which the company tried to force workers back to work immediately on an unsafe job after an accident left a straddle-carrier driver in a coma. Union officials were also denied entry to the workplace.
Speakers from the MUA were joined by union representatives, including from the NTEU, ETU, CFMEU and AWU. Greens MP David Shoebridge also addressed the crowd, saying, “The big law we need to change, that everything hinges on, is the right to strike”.
One stevedore from DP World described how the Fair Work Commission had recently ruled against casual staff holding a social day, describing it as unlawful industrial action. “This proves just how stacked against workers the FWC really is”, she said. “We can only rely on our ability to strike.”
Another worker from Hutchison Ports echoed the sentiment, explaining that after the tragic straddle-carrier accident, they had “refused to operate that piece of machinery for 16 days: it wasn’t safe, and the company didn’t even tell us how it happened. Someone was almost killed, but that didn’t stop the company taking us to the FWC for illegal industrial action”.