Hutchison Ports Australia (HPA) has signed a new agreement with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) to extend until November negotiations over the redundancies of 97 port workers made in August this year.
According to the parties’ new agreement, negotiations will be extended until November 16 under the auspices of Anna Booth, deputy president of the Fair Work commission (FWC), which is Australia’s workplace relations tribunal where conciliation proceedings will continue.
Under the terms, a new Enterprise Bargaining Agreement (EBA) will be negotiated and made by November 16, date that can be extended by mutual consent.
HPA’s acting CEO Mark Jack admitted in a company statement that critical terms remained at issue, adding that he was realistic a mutually agreeable outcome about the company’s future employment needs at Sydney and Brisbane port operations may not be achievable at all.
Jack said: “We will continue to negotiate in good faith during this extended period and hope that the MUA and its members will cooperate to try to work out a solution in the best and balanced interest of all stakeholders including the workforce, the customers and the shareholders.”
In addition to agreeing that a voluntary redundancy programme would be opened for workers in Brisbane and Sydney, HPA and MUA agreed that the Federal Court action brought by the union against the terminal operator following the redundancies would be vacated, with each party bearing its own costs.
Jack said: “We acknowledge the MUA’s role in these productive negotiations in the FWC before Deputy President Booth.
“HPA is a committed commercial ports operator, but we are also realists. All options for our future will have to be considered.”
The dispute between the operator and the maritime union began when 97 of HPA’s 224 port workers in its Sydney and Brisbane terminals were sacked by text message and email on August 6, 2015.
Following criticism for the redundancies and their modality, Harriet Mihalopoulos, the company’s general manager of human resources, claimed that “severe financial pressures” forced the company to make “hard decisions”, adding that there had been several face-to-face meetings and written communications to staff and the MUA during the period between June 26 and August 6.
The company said that it had “been incurring substantial losses in Australia after finding it extremely difficult to break into the current duopoly in the Australian market”.
HPA, which has invested AU$700m (US$496m) in the Australian operations since June 2013, made an AU$87m (US$62m) loss in 2014.