Australian Workers Fight Sackings!

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A FEDERAL Court judge in Australia has granted an injunction preventing 97 workers at ports in Sydney and Brisbane from being sacked.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) brought the case after Hutchison Ports made the workers redundant by email and text message last week. In a hearing in Sydney on Thursday, Justice Barry Rangiah agreed there was a prima facie case that the company had breached an enterprise agreement entered into with the MUSA.

Justice Rangiah ordered that the workers not be made redundant pending a full hearing of the dispute at the end of the month. The company must now continue to pay their wages at least until the full hearing on August 31. Hutchison Ports had earlier blamed the redundancies on a number of issues, including the downsizing of its offerings to Australian customers.

In front of a gathering of workers at Port Botany in Sydney, MUA NSW branch secretary Paul McAleer hailed the ‘historic’ court decision. He told the crowd: ‘We’ve nearly been down here for a full week – day, night, wind, rain, sun. What we’ve basically won is the first battle in this war. And we are very hopeful that this company comes to its senses and recognises that there is an enterprise agreement in place that has been negotiated and democratically endorsed by the leadership and it needs to be upheld.’

The industrial action at the ports in Sydney and Brisbane, which went into its seventh day on Thursday, was expected to halt following the court’s ruling. In statement issued on Wednesday the MUA had pledged to ‘fight Hong Kong-based logistics operator Hutchison Ports Australia in the Federal Court after almost 100 workers were sacked by text in the dead of night’.

It added: ‘The MUA claims Hutchison breached its enterprise agreement with its workers on two grounds: ‘Lack of adequate consultation with respect to redundancies, and ignoring the dispute resolution clause. ‘On these two grounds the MUA is seeking an injunction, plus penalties and damages.’

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said Hutchison’s conduct was outrageous. ‘The MUA is taking this Federal Court action because the union and the Australian public don’t think it’s good enough to sack your workers at midnight by text and email,’ Crumlin said. ‘This conduct by Hutchison doesn’t pass the pub test. We’re outraged and the outpouring of community support for the sacked workers suggests the Australian public is too.’

Just before midnight last Thursday, August 6th, 97 workers from Brisbane and Sydney were sacked suddenly without explanation by text and email. The company is owned by Li Ka-Shing, the 17th richest man in the world with an estimated net worth of $27 billion. Forbes magazine listed Li Ka-Shing as the 28th most powerful person in the world in 2014, ahead of Rupert Murdoch, IMF Director Christine Lagarde and the Presidents of Brazil, Japan and Egypt.

l The Australian Labour Party is demanding the resignation of the head of the royal commission into union corruption, following revelations he agreed to speak at a Liberal Party fundraising event. Commissioner and former High Court judge Dyson Heydon was advertised as the guest speaker at the $80-a-head Sir Garfield Barwick address in Sydney later this month.

The event was organised by the legal branch of the New South Wales Liberal Party and first advertised in April. The politically branded invitation promoted Justice Dyson’s appearance and offered guests the option to make cheques ‘payable to the Liberal Party’, saying proceeds would be ‘applied to state election campaigning’.

Earlier on Thursday, Justice Heydon confirmed he had cancelled his attendance. His office also released a series of emails showing he was previously assured by the organisers that it was not a fundraiser. But the manager of opposition business, Labour MP Tony Burke said the commissioner had revealed deep bias and partisan links.

The MP said: ‘He is conflicted, he is biased, the royal commission is a farce. Dyson Heydon is in a position now where he cannot remain in that role. The sham, that we have said for so long this royal commission was, has now been found out and exposed.’

Labour has repeatedly accused the government of waging a political witch-hunt through the royal commission, particularly by calling Opposition Leader and former union official Bill Shorten before the hearings earlier this year.

But Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the government would ‘defend the integrity’ of Justice Heydon and the union corruption probe. The behaviour of the royal commissioner has been absolutely beyond reproach,’ Abbott said in Question Time.

The leader of the house Christopher Pyne told Parliament the Opposition”s campaign would backfire by drawing more attention to Labour’s links to ‘questionable’ union behaviour. Director of the New South Wales branch of the Liberal Party, Tony Nutt, said for Labour to suggest the speech was a ‘significant fundraising event is ridiculous’.

Despite that, shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus has threatened court action if Justice Heydon does not resign. Drefus said: ‘Now we have, if more were needed, absolutely clear proof of the association between this royal commissioner and the Liberal Party of Australia.

‘The first step is to raise the matter with the royal commissioner. If the royal commissioner refuses to disqualify himself formally, it’s a matter that can then be taken up in the court, almost certainly the Federal Court of Australia.’

Greens MP Adam Bandt said: ‘If a judge was found to be raising funds for the prosecution there would be a mistrial and the case would be over. That is what has to happen here. Any pretence of independence of the trade union royal commission is now gone and the royal commission must be immediately terminated.’

The Transport Workers’ Union is demanding the Federal Government reimburse over $1 million that the union was forced to spend in answering the Royal Commission on trade unions, now that Commissioner Dyson Heydon was shown to have accepted an invitation to speak at a Liberal Party fundraiser.

The union has had to divert resources and pay for legal representation at the Royal Commission. The most recent hearings involving the TWU centred on the conduct of officials, which the TWU itself brought to the Commission’s attention.

Following these hearings, the Commission said: ‘The submissions for the Transport Workers’ Union contend that the Commission should acknowledge the steps taken by it to investigate and act on the allegations. . . Counsel assisting agrees the TWU deserves commendation in that regard.’

Tony Sheldon, TWU National Secretary, said in response: ‘We demand that the money we have been forced to spend on the Royal Commission should be returned to our union so it can be used to improve the lives of transport workers and their families. These funds will help us continue the fight to bring major companies like Coles to account for putting our members’ lives and the lives of other road users at risk with their lethal squeeze on trucking.’

‘The allegations against the TWU stunk from the start when Eric Abetz made false accusations against our union and was forced to apologise,’ Sheldon said. ‘I call upon the government to explain why $61 million has been spent on a Royal Commission which has now been exposed for what it really is – a political witch hunt,’ he said.

Sheldon added: ‘Instead of creating jobs for their mates, the Liberal Party needs to create jobs for working families trying to support themselves. Unemployment stands at over 6% – the highest for 12 years. That represents nearly 900,000 people out of work. So why is the government spending money going after the representatives of working families instead of supporting them?’