Sunday, March 23, 2008


Unions go for wages grab

By Glenn Milne, Sunday Telegraph

March 23, 2008 12:00am

THE powerful Maritime Union of Australia is beginning to flex its industrial muscle after a successful meeting with Prime Minister Kevin Rudd at The Lodge in Canberra on Australia Day.

A leaked union strategy document marked "confidential'' reveals the MUA believes it has "strong support'' from Mr Rudd and plans to push for new industrial relations arrangements that will drive up inflation.

The union wants a return to "pattern bargaining'', a technique to negotiate increased wages and conditions.

However, opponents of pattern bargaining say it would also increase inflation and interest rates.

The document also reveals plans to pressure employers into watering down tests that "penalise'' workers with a recreational cannabis habit.

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin met Mr Rudd in Canberra where, according to the document, the Prime Minister agreed to give the union access to personal security information collected by the Government on so-called "scabs'' crewing non-union ships.

"The National Secretary was invited to The Lodge by the Prime Minister on Australia Day, which in itself was an extraordinary turn-around since the last one,'' the document says.

"It also took the opportunity to inform him of the situation, and he undertook to look into the matter with relevant Ministers as a matter of urgency.''

In another sign of increased militancy under the Labor Government, the union is also demanding that its heavy machinery drivers be exempted from strict, on-the-job drug testing.

The question of wages is addressed under the heading``Enterprise Agreement''.

It advocates "common terms and conditions'' for all workers in key parts of the industry. The document, prepared in January, argues against a long negotiating period with individual employers.

Instead, it suggests using ``the terms and conditions in the offshore oil and gas industry Agreement as our log of claim''.

The document says: "This will greatly assist in proceeding much quicker to negotiations.

"Those conditions would also need to include an appropriate living away from home allowance (LAHA) that applies in remote and expensive living areas _ that is, north-west Australia.''

The effect of such a campaign would be to impose the boom wages and conditions in Western Australia to the rest of Australia, regardless of productivity.

On the question of what the document calls "scabs and parasites'' crewing non-union ships, the MUA says it has received co-operation from Mr Rudd and a range of senior ministers, including Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Attorney-General Robert McClelland to access the personal securityinformation of such crews.

"The National Secretary has contacted the ACTU who are working the matter through with the Minister for Industrial Relations, Julia Gillard.

"The Union has also contacted the Minister for Immigration, Chris Evans, and the Minister for National Security, Bob McClelland, to complain and secure understanding on what visa arrangements have been made for the scabby crew and what MSIC (Maritime Security Identification Cards) backgrounding has been done on the parasites.

"There is no doubt there is strong support from the Rudd Government.''

Another sign the union is preparing to flex its muscle is its demand that workplace drug testing of heavy machinery drivers be severely watered down.