High level Washington meeting focuses on automation

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The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA) held a high-level meeting in Washington, D.C. on 12th September, attended by International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) President and Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) National Secretary Paddy Crumlin and ITF Maritime Coordinator Steve Cotton.

The first item of business was a report from ILA President Harold Daggett on the progress of the New East Coast contract, particularly on the outcome of negotiations on the introduction of automation to the terminals covered under the contract. The ILA President reported that job security for displaced ILA members, including retraining into new maintenance jobs, was central to any agreed outcome. Further reports were received from ILWU President Bob McEllrath about future automation in West Coast terminals.

MUA National Secretary Crumlin reported on the events leading up to Patrick Stevedores’ decision to fully automate its Port Botany Terminal in Australia. Announcement of the decision took place shortly after the company entered into a new contract with the union, having not given the union any notice during the contract negotiations of the massive reduction proposed to the workforce. Patrick Management contended they were not obliged to and would execute the change without any formal agreement with the union.

The meeting was unanimous in condemnation of this approach to introducing this type of change. The meeting determined that formal agreement between management and union had to be finalised before any further automation could take place in workplaces covered by the unions in attendance.

The meeting determined that any other approach was effectively a form of union busting. To ensure that was not the case, mutually agreed outcomes on job security, retraining, union coverage of all new jobs created by the automation, and improvements to working conditions needed to be finalised between workplaces covered by the dockers’ unions in attendance.

The unions would work with each other, the ITF and other dock workers, seafaring and transport unions around the world to build a campaign to stop attempts of union busting through automation, with the initial focus on the finalisation of the ILA contract and the Patrick Terminal at Port Botany.

“How automation is introduced has been established as an issue for all international dock workers, their employers and their shareholders and customers,” said the MUA and ITF President Paddy Crumlin.

“We’re reassured by the strong support we are receiving to assist us to reach an acceptable negotiated outcome in our contract,” said Mr Daggett.

“We on the West coast are concerned at the approach of the employers in Australia and the East coast this meeting was about coordinating our response to these challenges and sticking together. This meeting correctly identified automation without negotiation is union busting,” said Mr McEllrath.

“The ITF is committed to resourcing and supporting our affiliates in Australia and the U.S. to reach acceptable agreements,” said Mr Cotton.