Waterfront Dispute 1998
"The most bitterly fought domestic issue of my whole time as prime minister was waterfront reform in 1998." - John Howard.
On the night of April 7, 1998, the Patrick Stevedoring initiated its 'anti-union' strategy whereby it sacked all 1400 permanent workers and 330 part-time workers, liquidated its stocks and locked out many of its docks. The bitter tension between the wharfies and security guards at the lockout were echoed through the disputes between Patrick Stevedoring, the coalition (liberal) government and the ACTU and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA). The conflict arose from the two main issues of workforce productivity on the wharves and the role of unionism, particularly on the wharves. The dispute involved both industrial and legal action from the trade unions and its members and is referred to as the 'Waterfront Dispute of 1998'. The dispute, ultimately taken to the High Court and won by the MUA, was one of the most significant challenges against the power of trade unions in Australia in the past decades.
There were four key people representing four significant groups that were overall influential in the Waterfront Dispute. This included:
Peter Reith: the industrial relations minister at the time
Jenny George: president of ACTU
Chris Corrigan: owner of Patricks Stevedoring
John Coombs: national secretary of the Maritime Union of Australia
Background Origins and Issues of the Dispute
Prior to the Waterfront Dispute, there was much controversy over the issue of the productivity on the Australian ports in comparison to international ports. Studies and data gathered in 1997 by the Productivity Commission comparing the productivity of stevedoring with international ports suggested that in Australia, costs were higher, productivity was lower and there was less reliability. It also concluded that Australian stevedoring productivity could be improved and...