Donald McGauchie says industrial relations going backwards

The Albanese government is trying to steer the second tranche of its industrial relations legislation through parliament in a debate that has been crystallised at the nation’s ports.

The Maritime Union of Australia has flagged that from Monday it will ramp up its campaign of industrial action targeting DP World, the foreign-owned stevedore responsible for moving 40 per cent of the nation’s container freight.

Import groups, retailers and shipping lines have said the industrial action – which is to include eight-hour ship delays – has already led to lengthy scheduling delays that are raising costs.

The union and DP World are at odds over pay and conditions for the company’s workers, who are seeking a 16 per cent pay rise for wages that start at $83,000 but average $130,000 a year.

Representatives from DP World will appear before parliament on Monday to argue for changes to the proposed laws, which include proposals to pay contracted workers the same as direct employees and to give gig economy workers at companies such as Uber more rights.

But the laws also include rules that deal with intractable conflicts, which DP World has previously said is the case at the ports. They only apply after nine months and would require every individual clause to be better or the same for workers when such a dispute ends up in arbitration.

“Essential sectors, such as the stevedoring industry, ought to be shielded from protracted bargaining conflicts, given that ports play a pivotal role in Australia’s economic health, supply chain, push and pull of inflation and contribute immensely to our productivity and overall economy,” DP World says in its submission.

The company and the union are under a media blackout agreed with the Fair Work Commission to aid their pay talks.

Mr McGauchie played a pivotal role in the Waterfront dispute as the chairman of P&C Stevedores, an entity that was to break the maritime union’s stranglehold on the docks with a new workforce and support from Patrick Corporation, a stevedoring company. After protests and legal action, Patrick eventually took back the bulk of its workforce but extracted a host of productivity gains.

Mr McGauchie, who spoke to the Financial Review from his farm in Victoria, declined to comment specifically on the dispute but said he doubted whether Australia had returned to the pre-waterfront days.

Overall though, he said Australia’s industrial relations were “going backwards in that way is reprehensible”. Greater efficiency, Mr McGauchie said, leads to higher living standards for everyone.

The government argues its industrial changes are necessary to close legal loopholes exploited by employers and ensure Australians’ wages keep pace with higher living costs.

The legacy of the waterfront dispute is hotly contested, with unionists seeing it as an act of bastardry largely thwarted by their campaign while business groups hailed it as a bold and successful move to improve port efficiency.

Mr McGauchie went on to a career in the halls of Australian corporate power, chairing Telstra, the Australian Agricultural Company, Nufarm and serving as a director of the Reserve Bank.

Other prominent figures from the Waterfront dispute, Chris Corrigan, Josh Bornstein and Greg Combet, were either contacted for comment or declined.

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