Systematic violations of rights

Worse than last year

Workers' rights violations

Right to civil liberties

In February 2021, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) brought criminal cartel charges against the Construction Forestry Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) and against the CFMEU-ACT secretary, Jason O’Mara.

On 17 August 2021, the commonwealth director of public prosecutions rejected the charges.

This was the third recent criminal prosecution that the ACCC had brought against the CFMEU, using the Consumer and Competition Act to attack the right of trade unions to collectively bargain. In 2012 and 2013, the ACCC had alleged that the CFMEU-ACT had tried to induce local steel fixers and scaffolders to set a minimum price to afford a wage rise. This, according to the ACCC, amounted to cartel behaviour. For the CFMEU, the ACCC has engaged in the blatant victimisation of trade union leader Jason O'Mara, who went through three years of trial by media and attack on his character.

Right to collective bargaining

On 26 October 2021, the Australian stevedoring company Patrick Terminals applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to terminate its existing enterprise agreement with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

If successful, the stevedores would lose the pay and conditions they had negotiated for years and go back to minimum industry standards unless a new deal was negotiated within six months. Over 1,000 dock workers were covered by the agreement.

The MUA and Patrick had begun negotiations for a new agreement about two years earlier. The MUA agreed to forgo its original claim for annual six per cent pay increases over four years and accepted Patrick’s 2.5 per cent increases, well below the current consumer price index rise of 3.8 per cent. Patrick blamed the MUA for unreasonable demands, notably the request that they consult the union over a proportion of new hires. The MUA pointed out that similar agreements had been reached with other major port operators. On their side, the workers were opposed to Patrick’s use of casual labour, its current rostering regime and its recruitment plans.

Right to collective bargaining

By mid-October 2021 management at the Fremantle Container Terminal in Western Australia, owned by QUBE Holdings, was still refusing to re-enter negotiations with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) over a lengthy dispute, despite being called on to do so by Western Australia premier Mark McGowan, several ministers and the Fair Work Commission.

Over 120 members of the MUA had been on strike since 30 July for an improved enterprise agreement. At the heart of the dispute was the roster system. QUBE workers were not on fixed rosters and were only told their schedule at 4 p.m. on the day before. The union asked that, as a minimum, shifts be allocated by 2 p.m. on the previous day, but management consistently refused and rejected all 42 of the union’s claims. QUBE further imposed a lockout and assigned its own management and supervisory staff to do stevedoring work to try and keep the terminal operating, despite serious safety concerns.

At the end of October, after the dispute had dragged on for eleven weeks, the MUA was forced to suspend industrial action, further to a threat from the federal Liberal-National government that it would ask the Fair Work Commission to terminate all industrial action at QUBE and impose compulsory arbitration.

Workers’ rights in law

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