Patrick stevedores is urgently seeking to stop allegedly unlawful industrial action at Port Botany as it braces for a seven-day strike that threatens to cripple its operations.
The company has alleged the Maritime Union of Australia is unlawfully organising stevedores to refuse to work with an alternative workforce in solidarity with the terminal's contracted maintenance crew, who are preparing to take a week of protected industrial action from Wednesday.
Wharfies have already refused to work at the terminal's straddle cranes over the weekend after maintenance supplier Kalmar brought in contractors to replace workers who had called in sick.
MUA Sydney branch secretary Paul McAleer claimed the contractors did not have the minimum qualifications necessary to work and that stevedores were refusing to work with them due to an "unacceptable safety risk".
The action threatens to thwart corporate efforts to mitigate the Kalmar protected action, which covers 48 workers in essential maintenance duties at the terminal.
'$1m in costs'
Patrick estimates the seven-day strike will hit 14 container vessels and cost "well in excess of $1 million in sub-contracting costs alone".
"At this stage it seems unlikely that the vessels could be subcontracted which will multiply the costs and delays. The public impact will increase as cargo is stranded on board the delayed vessels."
The spokesman also warned of "very damaging flow on effects nationally as the sailing schedules would be disrupted when Sydney is crippled".
Patrick and the MUA were before the Fair Work Commission on Monday as the company sought orders to prevent its stevedores taking unlawful industrial action during the Kalmar strike.
The company alleged work bans on the weekend were the result of Mr McAleer's email "imprimatur" sent on Friday, which advised "no work will be performed" for 24 hours where there was a risk to health and safety.
Under cross-examination, Mr McAleer denied he organised the action because he became aware Kalmar was going to use a replacement workforce.
"We didn't know what they were planning," he said.
MUA claims would 'close business'
Kalmar vice president John Payne said the MUA's threat of seven days industrial action was "unprecedented and extraordinary".
He said the union's roster and wage claims threatened to raise costs by 27 per cent in the first year and 40 per cent over the three years of the proposed agreement.
"The MUA are demanding we agree to an EBA that could force us to close our business," he said.
"We are happy to talk about something realistic and in line with sensible industry standards, but this is cloud cuckoo land."
Kalmar and the MUA have been negotiating a new agreement for six months, with Kalmar breaking off talks earlier this year because it said the union was not serious about reaching agreement.
After recently resuming talks, the MUA put forward claims to reduce rosters from 35 hours a week to 30 hours, with no reduction in take-home pay, and 5 per cent annual pay rises for three years.
The parties are expected to return to the commission on Tuesday afternoon, with a decision on stop orders expected later that day.