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  • Rikki Lambert

Umpire blows the whistle against ports lockout

A proposed lockout by an employer at NSW, Victorian, South Australian and other ports will not be able to go ahead after a Fair Work Commission ruling on Thursday.

Tugboat operator Svitzer was planning to lock out 580 workers at 17 ports in retaliation for 2,000 hours of industrial action in a long-running dispute. The move threatened grain and other exports - and imports - and the industrial umpire stepped in of its own volition to stop the lockout, acting in the national interest.

A full bench of the Fair Work Commission on Thursday ruled Svitzer's proposed lockout would cause significant damage to the Australian economy.

The commission continues on Friday to decide whether to suspend the industrial action for a set amount of time or terminate it completely.

In a statement, the Danish-owned company advised its customers of the ruling and that the lockout will not go ahead.

"The FWC is giving considerations overnight as to whether to suspend or terminate the protected industrial action - but they have made it clear they will issue an order before midday.
"On this basis, the lockout will not proceed and customers can return to planned shipping movements and recommence port operations."

Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke had added the federal government's voice supporting the FWC case against Svitzer, warning the action would cripple supply chains.

Whilst federal Labor has claimed its current industrial relations bill, stalled in the Senate, would prevent such disputes in future, employer groups have criticised the bill and the government for seeking to link the bill controversy to the Svitzer dispute.

The Australian Resources and Energy Employer Association said Mr Burke had the powers to intervene and end the dispute, but had not used them.


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