Union activists protest against corporate support for dictators

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) have undertaken a series of actions against the Victorian Transport Association, which held its annual conference at Lorne’s Mantra Hotel on March 19 and 20.

The actions were taken in protest over the Victorian Transport Association’s support for the Victorian International Container Terminal (VICT).

VICT is owned by Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services Inc (ICTSI), which operates in several nations that are known to be “the worst countries in the world to work in” and where workers have “no guarantee of rights”. With a business strategy of partnering with anti-democratic regimes implicated in crimes against humanity, ICTSI is the fastest-growing and most profitable port company in the world.

On March 19, 17 activists staged a silent stand-in at the conference, where state Shadow Minister for Employment David Hodgett was addressing stakeholders. Hodgett signed off on the contracts to allow VICT to operate in Victoria when he was Minister for Ports in the previous Coalition state government.

Standing in front of Hodgett as he spoke, the activists held up banners and placards that linked VICT and ICTSI to its business practice of supporting dictatorships and exploitation of workers in the name of profit. The action disrupted the conference and ultimately shut it down for at least half an hour.

On March 20, unions organised a rally outside the conference venue, drawing a crowd of about 50 unionists, with the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and the MUA prominently represented.

Addressing the rally, ITF Campaigns Director for the Asia Pacific Shannon O'Keeffe said: “[ICTSI] is a company that has terrible standards for occupational health and safety. It comes into markets, just as it did in Victoria, and cuts wages and conditions for workers.

“This is a company with a global history of exploiting workers, undercutting communities and doing deals with dictators.

“We say to the Victorian Transport Association: you should be very careful about whom you do business with. Their reputation will affect your reputation.”

National Secretary of the CFMEU (Construction and General Division) Dave Noonan said the Victorian Transport Association is “publicly supporting and endorsing ICTSI” by having the company as one of its members.

“You are publicly supporting and endorsing a company which not only seeks to drive down the wages and conditions of working Australians, on our waterfront, in our industry, by 40%; but you are standing with a company that works to collaborate with dictators across the globe; that treats working people as cannon-fodder, as expendable, in their ceaseless quest for global profit.”

“I think the Victorian Transport Association needs to think about the company they keep because if you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

MUA Deputy National Secretary Will Tracey told Green Left Weekly: “We don’t accept the worst of foreign multinational companies who do deals with bad countries.”

“[We won’t accept corporations] that do deals with dictatorships and entrench a business model that is about undercutting local wages and conditions of local workers and communities. If the transport authority wants to get involved with it, then there are going to be consequences.

“The Victorian Transport Association needs to decide: are they going to get in behind their law abiding membership who pay the industry rates and conditions, who respect union rights; or are they going to come in behind a foreign multinational company that has come into this country and is undercutting the basic labour standards that we have in place?”

VICT came under heavy scrutiny from the MUA and other unions last December after the sacking of an MUA delegate at Melbourne’s Webb Dock over a disputed security clearance. After a community assembly lasting nearly three weeks, as well as a large rally, the sacked worker was reinstated and the picket lifted.

Reflecting on the dispute, which remains ongoing, Tracey said: “We are here to let this umbrella organisation of the transport industry know that the sort of conduct we saw ... won’t be tolerated.”

“[The reason given for the sacking] was blatantly false. When the company lied about that, the Victorian Transport Association locked in behind and reinforced [VICT’s] line in the public media.

“We are here today to let them know that the sort of conduct we saw, in backing the lies and misinformation, won’t be tolerated. It’s not the sort of conduct we accept in this country.”

By: Matt Hrka
Source: Green Left Weekly