THE Maritime Union has accused employers of locking out wharfies as part of a aggressive political agenda against the Fair Work Act.
MUA assistant national secretary Warren Smith said the lockout of hundreds of workers at three ports, coupled with the Qantas lockout of its workforce, appeared designed "to prosecute a political argument against the Fair Work Act", The Australian reports.
"We see it as an employer agenda, quite frankly," he said.
Mr Smith's comments came after new Workplace Minister Bill Shorten yesterday secured an agreement for the MUA and POAGS, a stevedoring company chaired by Chris Corrigan, to return to negotiations following lockouts at Bunbury and Fremantle in Western Australia, and at Port Kembla in NSW.
The lockouts had echoes of the 1998 waterfront dispute, in which Mr Corrigan was a lead player, with non-union labour being flown over picket lines by helicopter.
Asked about the union bans that precipitated the lockouts, Mr Smith told ABC radio: "It was never a question of us making a determination that industrial action would be the way forward in terms of reaching a settlement to this agreement".
"We wanted to sit around the table and in good faith negotiate an enterprise agreement.
"We do that in a whole range of areas and most of the time without any trouble whatsoever.
"It just seems we have a number of employers, and I think POAGS included, who see this as an opportunity to prosecute a political argument outside of the normal realms of industrial negotiation."
Mr Smith said the union had more than 20 meetings with "a company that wouldn't settle and still hasn't settled and is refusing to settle around claims that are ultimately not outlandish claims" and the bans that were put in place in Bunbury and Fremantle "weren't outrageous bans".
"Obviously it was designed to force them to the table, but it wasn't designed to cripple the business, and it didn't and it would not have done so," he said.
He said there was no need for the "extreme measure" of locking out workers in the lead-up to Christmas.
Read more at The Australian.