By ISAAC NICHOLAS
THE Maritime and Transport Workers Union will conduct a secret ballot for strike action in the New Year on all major waterfronts throughout the country, union president John Mahuk announced yesterday.
“Most likely a strike action is imminent on all water fronts throughout the country in the New Year.” Mr Mahuk said during a media conference yesterday.
He said a national port stoppage could be averted if Steamships Shipping and the other stevedoring employers implement the 6% wage increase agreed between the union and the Employers Federation in July this year.
Mr Mahuk said the PNG Maritime and Transport Workers Union and the Employers Federation had reached an agreement in good faith for improved wages and employment conditions for both stevedoring and other maritime workers which included a 6% increase backdating to Jan 1, and the union as part of the overall settlement, agreed to withdraw all other disputed claims.
He said the new agreement concluded with the Employers Federation, was intended to supercede the 2005 National Stevedoring Workers Award and the 2006 Other Maritime Workers Award.
Mr Mahuk said draft agreement were prepared and given to Steamships Shipping representing the interest of the stevedoring employers in order to check the calculation of the new wage rates based on the agreed 6% wage increase.
He said, however, in August, Steamships Shipping demanded that the new agreements should include a provision for “flexible working hours of work”.
Mr Mahuk said following discussions with the Employers Federation and the human resource manager of Steamships Shipping, it was then agreed that the employers would retain the right to bring up “flexible hours of work” at a later date during the operational period of the agreements.
“With that matter satisfactorily resolved, the union and the Employers Federation were about to sign the new agreements, when Steamships Shipping insisted that both agreements should have a duration period of three years which was unacceptable to the union, as this would have meant that stevedoring workers and other maritime workers would receive no wage increase next year and 2011.”
He said the union counter-proposed that both agreements had a duration period of 12-months to allow the parties the opportunity to negotiate a further wage increase to apply at the end of next year.
Mr Mahuk said last month that the union accepted the employer’s amended offer of a three year agreement including future CPI-based wage increases and at the same time requested the employers to immediately implement the 6% wage increase.
He said Steamships Shipping had verbally responded, questioning the 6% wage increase agreed by the union and the Employers Federation and it has now become apparent that the company is attempting to dishonour that agreement.
“The disruptive and provocative actions by Steamships Shipping, who enjoy a monopolistic stranglehold over stevedoring operations in major ports throughout the country, and whose actions have deprived stevedoring workers and other maritime workers a decent wage increase for this year, has left the union with no other option but to arrange a secret ballot of its 4,000 members after New Year with a resolution to take lawful industrial action in all major ports in the country,” Mr Mahuk said.
He said the union had done everything possible to reach a fair and responsible settlement of the negotiations with the employers and have agreed to all of the new conditions demanded by Steamships Shipping.
“The union is concerned that Steamships Shipping, acting on behalf of the major stevedoring employers, are determine to provoke an industrial confrontation and widespread industrial disharmony in the maritime industry.” Mr Mahuk said.