Mounted police have been sent to a Fremantle Port picket line, as a four-day strike by wharfies seeking improved rosters kicked off this morning.
About 130 wharfies, mooring, security, stevedores and quarantine collection officers will down tools until Saturday morning after 11 months of failed negotiations for a new enterprise bargaining agreement.
The Maritime Union of Australia claims the workers want new family friendly rosters involving four days on and six days off, as part of a 39-hour week.
Assistant secretary Will Tracey said the workers were currently on a four days on, four days off roster under a 42-hour-week roster.
Mr Tracey said this would bring the Fremantle workers into line with conditions offered by other firms along the Kwinana industrial strip including Alcoa.
He said the changes were necessary to avert fatigue-related accidents that the shift workers were at risk from.
Despite the mounted horse presence, the strike has so far been peaceful according to police.
“There are some officers there as a precaution,” a police spokeswoman said.
“But my understanding is that it’s been quite peaceful so far.”
Transport Minister Troy Buswell attacked the strike as outrageous and out of line with modern conditions.
Mr Buswell said in addition to the roster changes, which would add about 27 per cent to the annual cost of providing the services the workers currently performed, employees were demanding wage increases of 12 per cent to more than 20 per cent over three years.
“I’m sure everybody would love to work four days and have a six-day break, but I don't accept it is a legitimate demand, particularly in the current economic climate,” he said.
“The fact that employee groups can make such frivolous demands and then take protected action in the form of a four-day stoppage in support of their claims is outrageous.
“It highlights, once again, the failure of the Gillard Government’s Fair Work system when employees can take action to stop the proper functioning of Western Australia’s capital city port because their ludicrous claims are not met.”
Mr Tracey attacked Mr Buswell’s statement, saying it was made “a long way from working on the docks”, and said both parties agreed on the wage increase, just not the rostering issue.
Fremantle Ports chief executive Chris Leatt- Hayter said the strike was already biting.
“Unloading of a clinker ship at the berth has been halted and the entrance to the terminal has been under blockade since early this morning,” he said. “The CBH grain terminal has also been impacted.”
Mr Leatt- Hayter said that with an average of some $3 million in trade passing through this busy port every hour of every day, the stoppage was extremely concerning in terms of its direct and flow-on impacts.
“The stoppage, which is related to negotiations for new Enterprise Agreements, will directly impact on port customers, others involved in the import-export chain linking with Fremantle and on the Western Australian economy,” he said.
“Fremantle Ports has put a very fair offer on the table but the size of the pay increases sought and the demand for roster changes to move from a “four days on four days off” roster to “four days on and six days off” are untenable.
“This action impacting WA’s capital city port is extremely disappointing, and Fremantle Ports will be doing all it can to minimise impacts on customers.”