Thursday, 20 April 2017

On the Australian Waterfront Everything Old Is New Again In 2017

Chris Corrigan has returned to his old stomping ground.

Swap April 2017 for April 1998, Malcolm Turnbull for John Howard, Sally McManus for Greg Combet and Paddy Crumlin for John Coombs and what have you got?

Perhaps the start of a replay of the Patrick Corporation Pty Ltd versus Maritime Union of Australia waterfront dispute, in which then Patrick managing director Chris Corrigan and his Liberal-Nationals political allies attempted to kill off the union representing dock and maritime workers at ports around Australia.  

The Sydney Morning Herald, November 2016:

Legendary waterfront warrior Chris Corrigan has announced he will stand down as chairman of logistics giant Qube, just months after the company completed the takeover of Asciano's Patrick's container ports business.

Coal industry veteran and long-time Qube director Allan Davies will be appointed chairman after a transitional program that is expected to be completed by around June 2017.

"I could not be more proud of the achievements of the Qube management team and it has been an enormous privilege to be part of the progress of this business," Mr Corrigan told Qube's annual general meeting in Sydney on Thursday.

Mr Corrigan, who has chaired Qube since early 2011 and is a former managing director of Patrick's, said he will continue as a director of the ports group "for a more extended period" to help oversee its integration following the acquisition from Asciano.

ACTU letter to Patrick Stevedores, 11 April 2017:


1. The Maritime Workers Union of Australia (the Union) and employees of companies in the Patricks group of companies (Patricks) who are members of the Union have brought proceedings in the Federal Court alleging that Patricks and others have acted unlawfully by taking steps to replace the employees with non-Union workers.
2. An urgent situation arose on 6 April 1998, when the Union and the employees believed that Patricks were about to dismiss the entire workforce over Easter.
3. The Union and the employees applied to the Court immediately on 6 April 1998 and asked for temporary orders to keep the employees in work until the main application is heard by the Court. The Court listed that urgent matter for hearing on 8 April 1998.
4. The following night, on 7 April 1998, the Patrick companies which employed the employees (the Patrick employers) appointed administrators to companies on the ground that they were insolvent.
5. Part of the cause of the insolvency was that other Patrick companies which owned the stevedoring operation (the Patrick owners) cancelled a contract for the supply of labour by the Patrick employers to the Patrick owners. That contract was the way the Patrick employers obtained stevedoring work to employ the employees.
6. On the same night, the Patrick owners engaged contractors to provide a new workforce. Under these contracts, the Patrick owners committed themselves to substantial financial obligations……
12. The cancellation of the labour supply contract and the appointment of administrators on 7 April 1998 were made possible by a complex inter-company transaction which occurred in September 1997. By dividing the functions of employing workers and owning the business between two companies, the Patrick group put in place a structure which made it easier to dismiss the whole workforce. It is arguable, on the evidence, that this was done because the employees were members of the Union. So there is an arguable case that the Patrick employers acted in breach of s 298K(1) of the Act.
13. There is also an arguable case that these acts amounted to a breach of the employees' contracts of employment.
14. There is also evidence that the Patrick owners and other companies in the Patrick group, together with others, agreed on these unlawful acts as part of an overall plan to replace the workforce with non-Union labour. This means that there is an arguable case that the Patrick owners and Patrick employers have engaged in an unlawful conspiracy.

Patricks conducted the business of stevedoring at 17 facilities around Australia. In particular, four companies in the Patricks group ("the employers”) employed the applicant employees, approximately 1,400 in number, and who were members of the MUA, to carry on the stevedoring business. The employees believed that the employers intended to dismiss their unionised workforce and replace it with non-union labour. This concern was fueled by the fact that, in January 1998, the Patricks group transferred the right to use No 5 Webb Dock in Victoria for stevedoring operations, together with cranes and equipment, to companies associated with the National Farmers Federation (NFF). The MUA employees believed that Patricks had some involvement with the NFF companies, and that the transfer of No 5 Webb Dock was part of a plan by Patricks to train an alternative workforce with which to replace the union employees.
In response, the employees filed an application on 11 February 1998, in which they alleged that the transfer of No 5 Webb Dock was part of a wrongful plan to replace the MUA employees with a non-union workforce. However, matters escalated considerably just before Easter when the employees learned that Patricks intended to dismiss the whole workforce during the Easter period. Then, on 7 April 1998, Patricks announced that it had entered into contracts "for a range of services from nine separate companies including the ... NFF backed P&C Stevedoring ..." and that Patricks had "taken steps to ensure all displaced employees ... will be eligible to receive their full leave and redundancy entitlements.
"On the evening of the 7'h of April, each of the four Patrick employer companies appointed administrators under Pt 5.3A of the Corporations Law. The court was told on 8 April that the administrators intended to dismiss the employees because the employers were insolvent. An interim injunction to restrain the employers from doing so was granted by His Honour North J on 8 April 1998, to have effect until the first hearing day after Easter, that was 15 April 1998. It is this latter hearing, and the subsequent appeals from the decision, which is the subject of this case note.
The employees sought injunctive orders which, in general terms, sought to prevent the employers, until the trial of the action, from dismissing the employees, and which required Patricks to utilise the MUA employees and no others in operating its stevedoring business. The court was also asked to restrain the employers from acting on or giving effect to the purported termination of certain labour supply agreements between the employers and another company in the Croup, Patrick Stevedores ESD Pty Ltd. That purported termination, which occurred on the evening of 7 April 1998, armed the Patricks employers with the power to claim that the MUA workforce was redundant.'' In other words, the purported termination left the employers with no work for their workforces to perform."…..
The injunctive orders granted by North J and upheld on appeal essentially had the effect of requiring Patricks as employers to retain their workforce, and compelled Patrick Stevedores Operations Pty Ltd to use that workforce for any stevedoring work. The orders amounted to the specific performance of the labour supply agreements, and required that the pre-7 April situation, whereby the Patrick operators had employed as their labour force members of the MUA, be maintained. The employees were protected against the imminent termination of their employment….
…the High Court was prepared to uphold the orders made by North J, in light of the undertakings given, on the basis that the administrators had to retain their discretion as to whether the employer companies ought to continue trading, or cease trading, and whether or not it would be feasible to retain the whole workforce. Decisions of that kind were for the administrators to make, not the court. However, if the administrators decided to continue trading, the effect was to restore the pre-7 April employment situation.

The sacked unionised Patricks workforce was finally reinstated in May 1998.

As Chairman and major shareholder in Qube Holdings Ltd Corrigan oversaw the purchase of Patricks in 2016.

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