Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH) is embroiled in industrial unrest on two fronts over plans to slash its workforce and cut costs.
The Hong Kong-based global operator was encouraged by the Australian government to get a foothold in Brisbane and Sydney container terminals in 2012 to end a ‘duopoly’ of Asciano and DP World. However, the company missed out on the Melbourne tender and has been scrambling to get a viable market share.
According to the Australian Financial Review, DP World holds the lion’s share of the Sydney market (53%), with Asciano in second place (44%), and leaving Hutchison with only 3%. It did get work subcontracted from Asciano because of the company’s port expansion works. This is now completed.
After taking a co-operative line with the unions in its early days, Hutchison, now under new management, announced last week it would cut its 222 workforce back by 40%, igniting a backlash from the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).
Paddy Crumlin, MUA secretary and president of the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) said his union received leaked documentation outlining a plan to introduce automated straddles and automated remote quay cranes.
“This is union busting by automation,” Crumlin said in a statement. “It’s totally contrary to the principle of ‘automation by negotiation’. It will be challenged, including legally.”
Union members stopped work for four hours on 30 July in Brisbane and 3 August in Sydney to demand consolation over proposed changes.
“It’s going to get bigger, not smaller,” a union spokesperson told IHS Maritime on 5 August. “They’ll start forcing redundancies in the next few weeks.”
Hutchison Australia did not respond when contacted on 5 August. However, correspondence from the company to the union outlining the redundancy proposal has been provided to IHS Maritime. It says the company was (unilaterally) finalising “the list of employees who will be made redundant”. Most positions other than quay crane operators and maintenance will be halved.
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The ITF has taken the dispute internationally, tying it to another standoff in Jakarta, Indonesia.
The ITF said Indonesian dockworkers were being intimidated for opposing the Indonesia Port Company giving Hutchison the Jakarta International Container Terminal (JICT) to run for 20 years.
Unions say four workers opposing the move were sacked. They also note there was no open tender for the process and it was rushed through four years before the existing JICT contract expires.
“The sacked workers from JICT have been reinstated after strike action,” ITF Asia Pacific chairman, Hanafi Rustandi told IHS Maritime. “They are still resolute in their opposition to the port concession to Hutchison.”