Wharfies at the Port of Newcastle have held a four-hour stop work meeting over what the Maritime Union of Australia says is a move to prevent them from driving a new bulk unloading crane, which the union argues will threaten job security.
The meeting involved Newcastle's three stevedoring companies, which unanimously resolved to fight the introduction of the new crane and the port's plans for staff to support it - which the union said was "effectively a fourth stevedoring operator" and would undermine hours and work available for existing companies.
It also resolved that no wharfies from any of the three companies would unload the crane.
"We will stop at nothing to protect wharfies' jobs from coming under attack from the privatised port authority," MUA Newcastle branch secretary Glen Williams said.
"Management of the Port of Newcastle should be facilitating growth and working to assist the community, not introducing measures that effectively marginalise every stevedore in the port, create job insecurity and casualisation for wharfies and the local community.
"On top of this significant attack on wharfies, the Port of Newcastle is also attacking port service workers' conditions in enterprise agreement bargaining.
"The MUA is in dispute with the Port of Newcastle about the erosion of workers' rights and conditions, and this attempt to strip core work from wharfies has created yet another point of tension."
MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the union was demanding the withdrawal of the plan to exclude wharfies from their current work.
"Management must also consult with stakeholders to ensure any new equipment in the Port of Newcastle is designed to improve overall port productivity, but not at the expense of the working people of Newcastle and their community," he said.
"We won't go away. We will fight this."
A Port of Newcastle spokesperson said the $35 million state-of-the-art ship unloader incorporated the latest safety and environmental compliance features expected to "deliver efficiencies for customers".
"This level of infrastructure investment has not been seen before at Port of Newcastle since privatisation," the spokesperson said.
"Stevedore employees experience a high degree of casualisation. Port of Newcastle is interested in creating a number of full-time positions for wharf and crane operators that would provide workers with greater job security and the education and training required to support the operation of the new ship unloader.
"Port of Newcastle has initiated discussions with the Maritime Union of Australia regarding the project. While the parties have met on three occasions to discuss the project, these discussions are at a very early stage.
"Port of Newcastle does not currently have an Enterprise Agreement with the MUA for wharf operations."
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