Hutchison Port Holdings locked its gates at its Sydney and Brisbane terminals on 7 August, after sacking 100 out of their total workforce of 224 dockworkers by text and email in the middle of the night.
As angry workers protested outside its gates, security guards, border patrol, and police were brought in.
The company reportedly notified agents that there would be no receival or delivery on 7 August. However, an industry source told IHS Maritime he was told 10 days ago the company was planning to shut down the terminal because of airport height restrictions affecting business.
“Larger ships can’t berth there, because of its proximity to the third run way restricting crane height,” he said. “This is only a precursor to them shutting the terminal down. They pulled the trigger after the last ship sailed last night.
“In this case, it’s not the union’s fault,” he said. “Building the terminal so close to the flight path was a fundamental flaw in their business plan. Most lines into Sydney operate large vessels and you need a crane boom that extends over the deck.”
According to industry sources, the company was approached five weeks back by various parties to convert the wharf for bulk cargo.
Employees were reeling in shock after finding they were locked out of the gates.
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“…your position will not be retained”, one of the redundancy letters made available to IHS Maritime said. “There are no redeployment opportunities. The intended last day of your employment will be Friday, 14 August 2015. I realise that this is a lot of information to take in. Accordingly you are will [sic] not be required to attend work effective immediately. We will of course pay you your normal salary to your last date of employment.”
In scenes not seen since the 1998 nationwide lockout of Patrick workers, around 100 angry workers and unionist gathered outside the terminals.
The union “utterly rejects the suggestion that the company is reducing its Australian operations because of a lack of competitiveness”, the unions said in a statement on 7 August, blaming the move on plans to automate the terminal.
The Maritime Union has lodged an injunction in the Federal Court to halt the redundancies, and the Australian FairWork Commission is holding a hearing on the dispute in the afternoon on the same day.
Hutchison has made no media statement available on its website and has been declining all media requests for comment. Its lines are unavailable except for a recorded message.
The company invited redundant workers to attend a meeting to discuss the decision at a Sydney hotel on 11 August, according to the redundancy letter from Harriet Mihalopoulos General Manager – Human Resources and Industrial Relations provided to the media.