(en) War on the wharfies

Ilan shalif (gshalif@netvision.net.il)
Mon, 15 Dec 1997 16:21:14 +0200


A AA AAAA The A-Infos News Service AA AA AA AA INFOSINFOSINFOS http://www.tao.ca/ainfos/ AAAA AAAA AAAAA AAAAA

Class war is still going... Well, just because they have been removed from Dubai does not mean that it is the end of this saga, with this current government I don't know when it will end. The next election, if it comes down to that!

The Sydney Morning Herald Monday, December 15, 1997

"Dubai expels wharf force

Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Mr John yesterday .... he says that if the backers of the waterfront scheme persist, he will pursue them "from one end of the world to the next".

By DEBORAH SNOW and HELEN TRINCA

The controversial operation to train non-union workers for Australian wharves was aborted last night after Dubai authorities withdrew the men's visas in the face of threatened international action against users of the port.

One of the men behind the scheme, Mr Mike Wells, told the Herald he was pulling the men out over the next few days and that they would be returning to Australia for two weeks.

But he insisted that they would continue their training at a new location, which he refused to name.

The Minister for Workplace Relations, Mr Reith, said the Federal Government had confirmed that the visas had been withdrawn by Dubai authorities.

Mr Wells said the scheme's backers were angry about the threats against Dubai by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF), but said that "no way will it give them cold feet".

The company backing the project, Container Terminal Management Services, would request termination of the $1 million contract.

The end to the scheme came after Dubai authorities, responding to direct pleas, and threats, from the ITF's headquarters in London, announced on Saturday that training would be suspended pending further investigation.

But there was no announcement that the Australians would be deported. In a statement announcing suspension of training, Dubai authorities indicated they did not want to damage relations between Australia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

In London, the national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia, Mr John Coombs, who organised international opposition to the scheme, welcomed the pullout but said the union would continue to fight any effort to resume the training.

If the backers did not see sense and drop the scheme, he would "pursue them from one end of the world to the next".

But there were not many "safe havens" - non-unionised ports - like Dubai where such training could take place.

Mr Reith said he had no information as to what motivated the withdrawal of the visas but he understood the contact between the Australian Government and the UAE was limited to confirmation of the withdrawal.

He said the issue had been "beaten up out of all possible proportion" and he rejected calls for an inquiry, saying there was no suggestion that anything illegal had been done.

Mr Wells described Mr Coombs as "Australia's unelected president" and added: "It just amazes me that the unions are calling the shots not just for this country, but for the United Arab Emirates as well."

In a statement released on Saturday, the Dubai Government said it was not aware that the Australians were soldiers as claimed in media reports.

"The agreement concluded with the firm is restricted to technical training relating to port management, handling of containers and other technical matters," it said.

The managing director of the Dubai Ports Authority, Sultan Bin Sulayem, told the Herald he would not have entered into a contract had he been told of any secret mission to break the power of unions on the Australian waterfront.

Labor's foreign affairs spokesman, Mr Laurie Brereton, said yesterday that moves to suspend the training had followed his lobbying of the UAE Ambassador.

He gave the impression of having warned the UAE Government of a "potentially adverse consequences" if it continued to support the training."

---------- From: Steve Wright <sjwright@vaxc.cc.monash.edu.au> To: aut-op-sy@jefferson.village.Virginia.EDU Subject: AUT: War on the wharfies Date: Saturday, 13 December 1997 9:05

The Age (Melbourne), Saturday 13 December 1997

War on the wharfies - David Elias

The Howard Government wants to break the might of the maritime union, the militant frontline troops of Australian trade unionism. This fierce determination has inspired a provocative scheme to deploy strike-breaking "mercenaries'' in an election year showdown on Australia's waterfront. David Elias reports.

THE CONTAINER terminals in Jebel Ali Port, the world's largest man-made harbor, were built to accommodate sea-going monsters that are 900 metres long, 60 metres wide and 14 metres deep. At the crossroads of the world's major shipping lanes, Dubai's modern port is tucked away in the Arabian Gulf 200 kilometres from its entrance. It is both a free-trade zone and an industrial free-for-all where foreign workers predominate and trade unions so intolerable that deportation awaits those who dare to organise one.

Some would say it is the ideal training ground for a showdown next year on the Australian waterfront.

For $1 million, the Dubai port authority has made available a facility where the hurriedly recruited mixture of adventurers and soon-to-be-superannuated soldiers can gain experience on equipment that no unionist would let them touch on an Australian wharf.

And so Mike Wells, a highly decorated Vietnam war veteran, and his partner Peter Kilfoyle, a crowd control security guard, have recruited and dispatched their men to Dubai. The coming war against the Maritime Union of Australia has been a long time in the making.

The method, however, lends itself to what is either a great conspiracy theory or a compelling circumstantial case against the Federal Government and, by association, the National Farmers Federation.

The NFF and other groups representing import and export oriented businesses have long sought to break the Maritime Union's grip on the docks, and the Howard coalition has long known that it has to deliver on its waterfront reform program to retain the support of the business community.

The Workplace Relations Act with its tough secondary boycott provisions and the moves to build new cargo terminals and find operators who will employ non-union labor were anticipated. But it was the inclusion of soldiers among the Dubai group that was the unexpected element, one that threatens to develop into a battle of boycotts and blockades across the world.

If many a true word is said in jest then Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan, was only partly talking with tongue in cheek when, as a former NFF president, he said: "The National Farmers Federation never loses anyone, it just relocates them.''

It was 1988 and Andrew Robb was leaving the NFF for a new job at Liberal Party headquarters where he rose to become national director. The words could have applied just as easily to David Trebeck and Paul Houlihan, Sydney consultants who have been doing their bit for the Federal Government's industrial reform program in the past 18 months.

Mr Trebeck was the NFF deputy director who helped form the organisation's economic policies in 1977 and led it down the reform road until 1985. He then moved to the Liberal Party's federal policy unit as director, but stayed only two years until the party's third successive defeat in the 1987 federal election.

In a 1986 newspaper guide to the new right he was listed as a supporter of the

H. R. Nicholls society and the author of a Liberal document that, once leaked to government, was tabled in Parliament to the embarrassment of John Howard, who was then Opposition Leader. It named prominent businessmen and journalists who would have to be "neutralised'' if the Opposition was to successfully market its new and radical industrial relations policy.

Mr Houlihan, a former industrial director of the NFF, was credited as the architect of the defeat of the Australian Meat Industry Employees Union during the landmark Mudginberri meat workers dispute in 1985. Before his switch to the employer ranks he had been Tasmanian state secretary of the right-leaning Federated Clerks Union, so he came to the NFF with a strategic insight to union politics.

As the organiser of a December 1995 conference on waterfront reform, Mr Houlihan urged management to strengthen its resolve and not panic at the prospect of a fight. He told managers at all levels of stevedoring to keep their eyes open for potential confrontation. "You have to walk straight through a work ban ... You've got to stand there and say, 'When push turns to shove, we can look after you'.''

The NFF has even gone so far as to say it is not averse to confrontation, although it has this week denied any prior knowledge of or involvement in the Dubai mission.

Four months ago the NFF industrial director James Ferguson said the organisation regarded waterfront reform as an absolute priority, and had canvassed a range of options with the Government, including the use of servicemen to keep the docks operating during a strike.

A few weeks later, after the disastrous failure of the first attempt to replace the MUA on the Cairns wharf with a non-union labor force, Mr Ferguson said the NFF was preparing a guide for farmers and businesses detailing ways they could redress a dock strike, including legal action against the MUA.

Until his fall from grace in the travel rorts affair, the former Transport Minister John Sharp was the farmers' political torchbearer. As the local National Party member in the fine-wool growing area around Goulburn, NSW, Mr Sharp has an electoral as well as an ideological commitment to waterfront reform.

In the run-up to the federal election last year the coalition promised to deliver a 25 per cent cut in port costs and, as soon-to-be transport minister, Sharp said: "We will break the grip that the Maritime Union of Australia has on the waterfront."

The farmers were elated. It signalled tough action and the end of what they saw as the Labor government's half-hearted attempts at micro-economic reform.

There were two sub-plots: the destruction of the MUA, which the Government regards as the ACTU's most militant storm troopers, and the break up of the dockside duopoly of stevedoring companies, the Australian-controlled Patrick Partners and the overseas owned P & O Shipping.

The business and export groups blame both for waterfront inefficiencies, high costs and lack of competition.

They see a cosy arrangement in which the wharfies get away with low productivity because they have guaranteed jobs for the rest of their working lives at disputedly high wages.

Under the original plan of action, the Federal Government undertook the destruction of the MUA while it left the Victorian Government to reform the stevedore industry. To Canberra's annoyance the anointed third terminal operators, Orient Overseas Container Line (OOCL), forged a "groundbreaking" agreement with the union.

Victoria blew its negotiations with the Hong Kong shipping group out of the water, and OOCL opened negotiations with New South Wales, where the Carr Government has no objections to the MUA.

The Industrial Relations Minister, Peter Reith, in one of his first moves in office in March last year, appointed Houlihan to a small taskforce to draft the Workplace Relations Act, the legislative implement promoting the use of non-union labor that the Government hopes to use.

Sharp, by then Transport Minister, brought over Greg Bondar, executive director of the Australian Chamber of Shipping, as his maritime and shipping adviser.

Two months into the new government, Sharp's department let the first of a series of contracts worth more than $1 million to provide secret and wide-ranging advice on waterfront reform.

Most of the reports have only recently been handed in, but their classification as either confidential Cabinet documents or subject to public interest immunity leads to speculation that turned to suspicion when the MUA and the Labor Party exposed the Dubai mission.

Opposition Senator Kerry O'Brien says the secrecy suggests these reports might have raised the possibility of a strike-breaking workforce as the one being recruited and trained by Wells and Kilfoyle.

Sharp says there was nothing particularly secret about what the consultants were doing, but they were contracted to produce industry background reports that had to be confidential. Otherwise, companies and other figures on the waterfront would have clammed up.

In evidence to a Senate expenditure review committee, Kym Bills, first assistant secretary at the marine division of the Transport Department, denied the consultants had produced a plan that identified legal provisions to force strikers to return to work.

The first of the outside projects was a $60,000 contract that overran to $80,000. It was let to Trebeck's Acil Economics, with a sub-contract awarded to Houlihan, to ask key industry groups for their views on waterfront reform and provide Sharp with a strategy for implementation.

A second contract with a $600,000 ceiling was awarded to Acil in June without going through the normal tendering procedures. Bills told the Senate committee that Sharp ordered the contract without tender on advice from the department that Acil would be further developing its previous task.

At this point an interesting cast of Liberal Party connected characters enters the scene.

As part of the Acil project, the department paid $42,000 to Australian Research Strategies, a company run by Liberal Party pollster Mark Textor, and then let another, as yet uncosted, contract to Canberra Liaison, a company run by long-standing Liberal election strategist Johnathon Gaul.

The Government then commissioned a series of predominantly Melbourne-based consultants, academics and legal firms to produce "effective and durable waterfront reform and provide advice on how to achieve it".

The contracts cost the taxpayer a further $480,000, which Sharp sanctioned, again without putting them out for tender.

The project was carried out under the leadership of Stephen Webster, a former adviser to then Opposition Leader Andrew Peacock and to former Tasmanian Premier Robin Gray. Dr Webster was paid $95,000 for his work, but others he recruited, also without tender, were paid even more.

The big legal firms Minter Ellison and Corrs Chambers Westgarth were paid $151,000 and $90,000 respectively. Minter Ellison, it is understood, provided an extensive report after a legal review of the Workplace Relations Act and its key anti-union weapon, the secondary boycott provisions.

The former minister was not prepared to talk about the detail, adding that he had not seen the reports. He had left the ministry before October when all the work was handed in.

The Webster contracts were concluded on 3 October, two days before Reith assumed responsibility for waterfront reform.

A week later, on 13 and 14 October, the partnership of Wells and Kilfoyle registered two companies in Australia as part of the plan to recruit and train an alternative waterside workforce, but it used a third company with a Nunawading post office box for its advertisements and recruiting.

The company, CTMS Ltd, stands for the Hong Kong-registered Container Terminal Management Services, which appears to be the offshore conduit through which funds for the $2.5 million project flow.

The Wells-Kilfoyle partnership is a curious one that appears to be based mostly on their mutual background as SAS commandos. They seem to have little else in common.

Wells, in a 20-year career as a regular soldier and a reservist, distinguished himself in Vietnam, winning American and Australian decorations for gallantry. Kilfoyle spent eight years in the ranks of the regular army, mostly as a commando.

Wells, 60, was second-in-command of his company, a leader who applied his people skills to a successful career in the outside world. He has been a management consultant and personnel recruiter for about 10 years, but started out as a pharmaceutical sales representative before later rising to chief executive of a light engineering manufacturer.

Kilfoyle, 42, who claims to be an accredited instructor in baton use and international defensive tactics, has spent his civilian career as a security guard and the proprietor of a Ballarat hairdressing salon.

He filed for bankruptcy in Perth in 1991, blaming the continual mechanical failure and eventual breakdown of a truck for his inability to earn a living. He owed about $25,000, mostly to his bankers, Myer, the tax department, and the credit companies financing the truck and a car.

He sought his discharge three years later to return as a security guard, crowd controller and inquiry agent, and has again struck financial difficulties. He owes $7000 to a Melbourne security equipment supplier.

Wells is spokesman for the partnership, but he has offered differing accounts on who is behind the waterside training program.

He has denied there is a plan to use the workforce in Australia to break the MUA, and insists it is meant to provide job opportunities in ports in the Asia-Pacific region.

This appears inconsistent with another statement that after the OOCL deal fell through he and Kilfoyle had been approached by people to train waterfront instructors. He does not name them, nor does he say who is paying the bills.

Wells said he had not talked to anyone in the Federal Government and quite predictably there was nobody in Canberra this week who was prepared to admit they had ever heard of Messrs Wells and Kilfoyle.

1997 David Syme & Co Ltd

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