Hutchison Ports Australia and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) on 28 August agreed to return to the negotiating table, adjourning a court hearing scheduled for next week.
In a statement from the Australian Fair Work Commission, deputy president Anna Booth announced the parties had put conciliation before court action that was scheduled to begin in Brisbane on 1 September.
“I believe the parties are committed to reaching an agreement that best meets the interests of Hutchison Ports, its employees, the Maritime Union of Australia and its members,” Booth said.
The breakthrough follows the controversial sacking of just under 100 dockworkers by text and email in the middle of the night on 6 August and three week-long pickets culminating in a Federal Court temporary injunction against the layoffs.
Federal Court judge Darryl Rangiah on 14 August found the union had a prima facie case against the company for failing to consult over the redundancies.
Hutchison was ordered to put all workers terminated back on pay until the full hearing, but was not required to roster them back on work.
As with the nationwide sackings of Patrick dock workers in 1998, the court ruling in favour of the union is expected to lead to a negotiated outcome.
Both parties have agreed to conciliation talks convened by the Fair Work Commission and Deputy President Booth, with three days set aside for next week.
Hutchison maintains it was forced to lay off workers due to financial losses.
“HPA has invested AUD700 million (USD501 million) in the Australian operations since June 2013 and made an AUD87 million loss for the 2014 calendar year,” general manager of human resources Harriet Mihalopoulos said in a release on 26 August. “The company has been incurring substantial losses in Australia after finding it extremely difficult to break into the current duopoly in the Australia.”
Meanwhile, workers have continued to defy a Commission ruling to disband protests outside the terminal gates in Brisbane and Sydney.
When talks ground to stalemate earlier this week rallies were also held outside Vodafone offices in Sydney, Melbourne, and Brisbane.
“Hutchison owns half of Vodafone – and putting aside the cruel irony of a telco-backed port operator sacking its workers by text – we’re hitting the streets to remind the public and the company that we’re still here and demand a better deal for these sacked workers,” MUA national secretary and president of the International Transport Workers Federation Paddy Crumlin said in a release.
While the MUA stepped back from the pickets, other unionists continued to support the sacked workers, disrupting receival and delivery, IHS Maritime was told.
The Fair Work Ombudsman is investigating industrial action at Hutchison Ports.
When contacted by IHS Maritime, a spokesperson for the Ombudsman confirmed the investigation but said that as the matter was operational, she could not comment further.