Right Wing Attack On Aussie MUA and Trade Union Freedom

By Barry Camfield

Amazing isn’t it? Governments and employers across the planet only tolerate unions whilst union workers are compliant and not seriously engaged in industrial action or fighting for better pay, terms and conditions.

So we learn that Aussie prime minister Scott Morrison from the right wing Australian Liberal Party is threatening all sorts of retribution and ravings against a trade union engaged in a legitimate industrial dispute. The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is fighting for a decent pay rise with the notorious Patrick Terminals, who have reacted hysterically to the negotiating position of the MUA.

Initially seeking a 6% pay rise, the MUA has reduced its claim to a 2.5% pay rise for three years. Nothing special there, for example public sector nurses in South Australia won a 2% pay rise this year. So what’s the big deal?

After all, it is a dispute between a workforce and their employer, legal in Aussie terms under the Enterprise Bargaining arrangements. The Fair Work Commission is there to ensure that any agreement meets at least the Modern Award minimums and that bargaining is conducted “in good faith”. All good there then, as this is legitimate bargaining and the union side has moved its claim substantially.

But no, Morrison calls the pay claim “extortionate” and threatens the union with Federal intervention, refusing to rule out the use of the military to intervene. Donald Trump may not be alone it seems in setting the army against the very people it is supposed to serve and protect.

But this is an industrial dispute which requires a freely negotiated settlement. 2.5% as “extortion? Back in the 1970’s when inflation was high in the UK, I recall a food company in West London engaged in negotiations with the TGWU when the company offered a 22% pay increase, which was promptly rejected by the T&G as “insulting”! Agreement was eventually reached and no bayonets appeared.

So why war over 2.5%? This is all about the unregulated free market dominating worker and union freedom, stopping unions from being effective and the bitter anti-union face of ScoMo and his party bursting through the pretence of decency and respect for unions. Such threats are in contravention of ILO Convention 89, which guarantees Freedom of Association. (and by implication the right to strike.

As one ILO expert said, “Freedom of Association without the right to strike is ‘meaningless’”.) Let’s support the MUA in their battle for a decent pay rise, and renew the fight for genuine trade union Freedom around the world.

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