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Waterfront Disputes Essay, Research Paper

The 1998 Waterfront Dispute was described by John Howard (the Prime Minister) as a defining moment in Australia s industrial relations history . It represented a change in government strategy from the Labor Government s partisan stance to the Liberal Government s provocative stance. Discuss.

a) the extent to which this statement reflects the change in policy accurately: and

b) the extent to which this change affects the contemporary practice of employment relations.

During the time period from 1996-1977 the Australian Government and NFF(national farmers Federation, consider various option to replace Maritime Time Union Association (MUA). They glad plan involved cooperation restructuring companies employing MUA labour in the Patrick Empire. Patrick and his legal advisor and consultants, consider various option to re-place union workers. On 7 April 1998, Patrick sacked its 1400 MUA workforce at its various location across Australia and replaces them with non-union workforce . Patrick Steverdorin (formely Strang Patrick Holdings) were backed up by Australian Liberal Government, NFF (National Farmers Federation) on other hand the Stevedores workers had the full support of MUA backed by Australian Workers Union (AWU), International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF), coal miners. The government involvement in the company was because of two reasons; poor efficiency and low productivity by MUA workforce, compare to international standards. The abuse and breach of Australia Work Act (AWAs 1996) to employ non-union labor substituted with union labor was the central characteristics of waterfront dispute.


1. (http://www.workersnews.flex.com.au/wn/200398/web.html),

2. Liberal and National Parties (1996) Transport Policy,

http://www.liberal.org.au/ARCHIVES/TRANSPORT/trans.htm Svensen, S. (1995) The Sinews of War: Hard Cash and the 1890 Maritime Strike. University of New South Wales Press, NSW.

Yes, the statement stated above is true, the Labor Government was in a way in favor with unions. Source tells there was close connection between Australian Labor Trade Union(ACTU). Hawke and Keating labor could not purse full deregulation the labour as business community would have liked. But they negotiated unions and ACTU and the award system towards decentralized enterprise bargaining arrangement was implemented. The 1980 also saw established decline in union membership, it directly related in weaken industrial power of labor government. There was as significant changes made by the Labor Government IRRA 199, when non-union enterprise flexibility agreements (Coullthard,1996)by this example:

By the mid of last century , Stevedoring company had 25,600 workers. Because of International competitions and mechanization of Patrick Stevedores, employers wanted a smaller but highly trained, disciplined and flexible workforce to increase productivity and cost cutting. There was a conflict between the employers and employees because of the intention of employers to cut off large number of workers. The Labor Government established an Inter State Commission (ISC) in 1986. The ISC produced an industry plan in 1989 and a tripartite body, the Waterfront Industry Reform Authority (WIRA), was established to implement it. Then the workforce was successfully reduced with the agreement of the unions and employers by 57% through redundancies. Productivity increased by 75% . (Griffin and Svenson, 1998) This incident showed that not only the Labor Government worked jointly with unions but was also had policies of restructuring and globalisation of the Australian economy, which was accompanied by attempts to soften the impacts on vulnerable group through target income security and labour market programs.

The Howard Liberal government came to power having commitment to improve efficiency and labor market by re-building Industrial Relationship Act, they strategy was to changing AWA act to achieve this their introduced Workplace Relation Act(1996),After the implement of the act. The under act (AWAs.s170VF) contain Individual Bargaining , which was clearest expression desire to avoid external interference, from the third parties, like unions. For first time in Australian history an individual employee can fight against his employers in matter involving any in justice of any kind done to him/her at the workplace. The Liberal Party s industrial policy program plainly stated:

There will no scope of uninvited union intervention to frustrate AWAs….,AWAs will assist in developing common purpose a common purpose between employers and employees for the benefits of all (Reith,1965:5). The monopoly held by the union from this time onwards had ended. Australian Industrial Relation (AIRC) was eradicated.187AA and s.124 of the WRA which prevents an employer paying strike pay and prevents the AIRC hearing these matters. Like Mr. Howard s reassurance that no worker would be worse off .

Labor Government legislative amendment 1992 began particular changed relationship bargaining and compulsory arbitration and between collective agreements and awards further 1993 weaken the certification list by introducing the concept of the non-disadvantage test. This list ensures that award condition traded for pay raise, if there is no mistake done by an employee.

WRA (1996) is in favor of employers rather than employees but it is against unions which was the main motive when Liberal Government came into power, it get everything what they got against unions.

In conclusion the Waterfront dispute has been a biggest step in reforming AIRC act, the loss of the Patrick, Liberal Government and NFF was set back. The most important thing was the solidarity which the MUA members hold on together till the victory. We learn that Labor government were one of the first government in Australia to take step against decentralizing of unions in Australia, which were then followed by Liberal government to take much more provoking stand against unions . Equally, while the Australian union movement has won this battle, the struggle between capital and labour will continue.

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