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Svitzer will not exclude tugboat workers in Australia amid rising industrial tensions

Why cargo ships carrying life-saving medicines, petrol and food are BLOCKED from docking in Australia – despite the controversial strike being called off

  • The Danish tugboat giant Svitzer will not lock out its dockers on Friday
  • The company has a near-monopoly on Australia’s important tugboat industry
  • Svitzer decided to exclude the workers after three years of failed union negotiations
  • The Fair Work Commission ruled that the exclusion would harm the economy too much
  • Newcastle ceased operations on Wednesday night ahead of the anticipated action

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A planned lockout of workers by a major Australian tug operator has been forcibly scrapped just hours before it was due to start – but the move wasn’t enough to halt significant disruption to the country’s supply chains.

Danish tugboat giant Svitzer planned to detain its 580 Australian workers from 17 ports in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, Western Australia and South Australia on Friday in an ongoing dispute.

A lockout is a type of industrial action taken by an employer against its own employees, resulting in the incapacitation of the workforce.

The decision came after three years of failed negotiations between the company and unions over a new company agreement.

The Fair Work Commission ruled on Thursday that Svitzer could not lock out workers because doing so would cause too much damage to the Australian economy, with more than 90 per cent of trade expected to stop in the affected locations.

However, the ruling came too little too late for many dock workers, as some ports shut down operations overnight.

Svitzer’s plan to lock out striking dock workers has taken a toll on Australia’s retail industry, despite being called off Thursday night (pictured, a Svitzer tugboat)

Svitzer workers in Newcastle planned to strike from Wednesday evening, but called off the union action shortly before.

The NSW Port Authority and industry sources told the Newcastle Herald that the main state port saw no shipping activity overnight due to the expected action.

Tugboats are responsible for steering larger vessels into place as they enter and leave a harbor or harbour.

Agriculture Secretary Murray Watt on Thursday predicted the effects of the Svitzer lockout and responsive action.

“If we want to get grain or other agricultural products out of the country, we need those tugs,” he told ABC radio.

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke (above) described Svitzer’s lockout as “economic vandalism” as the company has a near-monopoly on Australia’s tugs

“It’s really unfortunate that this dispute has gotten to the point where Svitzer has decided to lock out his staff and I hope the Fair Work Commission can play a really constructive role.”

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke also called on Svitzer to end the lockout.

“What Svitzer is trying to do is economic vandalism,” he said.

“They’ve decided to act now in a way that puts much of the Australian economy at risk, not just their own workplace.”

Mr Burke strongly supports an industrial relations bill that would allow the Fair Work Commission to intervene in industrial action before tensions reach a crisis point.

“The commission should not be required to determine that an action will destroy the Australian economy or endanger anyone’s life before it can act,” he said.

Australia's export and import industry would be crippled by Svitzer's planned lockout as tugs are needed to safely serve ports (pictured, Sydney's Port Botany)

Australia's export and import industry would be crippled by Svitzer's planned lockout as tugs are needed to safely serve ports (pictured, Port Botany in Sydney)

Australia’s export and import industry would be crippled by Svitzer’s planned lockout as tugs are needed to safely serve ports (pictured, Port Botany in Sydney)

“Australians are tired of perpetual disputes and the commission should have general powers to intervene when a dispute has become intractable.”

The new law will be debated in the Senate for the next two weeks.

The Fair Work Commission will continue its hearing on Friday to consider whether to suspend the union action for a period of time or to end it entirely.

In a statement, the Danish company informed its customers of the ruling and that the exclusion will not take place.

“The FWC is considering overnight whether to suspend or terminate the protected union action, but they have made it clear that they will issue an order before noon,” Svitzer said.

“On this basis, the lockout will not continue and customers will be able to return to scheduled shipping movements and resume port operations.”

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