The Maritime Union of Australia covers waterside workers, seamen, port workers, professional divers, and office workers associated with Australian ports. As of 2005 the union has about 10,000 members. It is a local affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation and represents the interests of affiliate members in Australia.
The union resulted from a 1993 merger of the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Waterside Workers Federation, both unions with a strong class sense and history of political and industrial action in the Australian labour movement. Both unions were involved in early maritime disputes in 1878 and the 1890 Australian maritime dispute.
The Sydney Wharf Labourers' Union was established in 1872. With Federation in 1901 and the impending introduction of an Arbitration system, the Waterside Workers Federation was formed under the leadership of Billy Hughes in 1902 and became a national trade union. Billy Hughes was expelled from the union in 1916 over Australian Conscription.
In 1917 the War Precautions Act 1914 was used to defeat a waterside workers nationwide strike by the passing of a regulation that deprived the Waterside Workers Federation of preferences in seven of the busiest ports in Australia.
Waterfront workers were subject to the "bull" labour pick-up system, a system prone to corruption. In 1928 the Waterside Workers Union sought the abolition of the "bull" pickup system in a new award, but Justice Beeby handed down a new award worse than the old, which included double pick-up, cancelled the single pick-up in those ports where it existed and removed restrictions on over-long shifts because they slowed ship turnaround times. Spontaneous industrial action occurred around Australia, with riots in Melbourne, resulting in injuries and arrests and the death of Alan Whittaker, a Gallipoli veteran and union member, shot in the neck from behind.
The Transport Workers Act 1928 was federal legislation which stipulated the engagement, service and discharge of wharfies who now had to have a license, known as the dog collar, to work. Non-union labour was brought in to the wharves and a "bosses union" called the Permanent & Casual Wharf Labourers Union of Australia was set up, which almost killed the Waterside Workers Federation. Many members of the Waterside Workers Federation were subject to victimisation for many years. In the late 1930s union officials such as General Secretary Big Jim Healy and Brisbane Branch Secretary, Ted Englart, swallowed their pride and started organising the P&C workers back into the Waterside Workers Federation, a process not completed until the early 1950s. The union consolidated its strength with the shortage of labour caused by World War 2.
In 1954 the Federal Government announced amendments to the Stevedoring Industry Act which gave stevedoring employers the right to recruit non-union wharf labour. The Waterside Workers Federation went on strike for a fortnight in November 1954. Although the changes were passed, the new legislation was unworkable. In early 1955 a new recruiting agreement was drawn up protecting the union's right to recruit labour with Harold Holt, Minister for Labour and National Service.
In the 1950s the union established its own film unit, which made several films on waterfront working conditions and events. Some of these films, such as The Hungry Mile, have become documentary classics. The union also commissioned artists, such as Roy Dalgarno, to document the people and conditions on the waterfront.
The Federated Seamens Union of Australasia was formed in 1876 by the amalgamation of the Sydney Seamen's Union and the Melbourne Seamen's Union, with the Seamen's Union of Australia following in 1906.
Most recently the Maritime Union of Australia was involved in the 1998 Australian waterfront dispute when Patrick Corporation attempted to sack 1400 waterfront workers across Australia and introduce non-union contract labour. Julian Burnside acted as defence for the MUA.
Notable officials include:
It's war, say victorious strikers.(Maritime Union of Australia and Worsley Aluminia Pty Ltd.'s workers wages issue)(Brief Article)
Mar 03, 2005; Mar 03, 2005 (The West Australian - ABIX via COMTEX) Striking workers in Western Australia have won pay rises. The strike has...
A wolf in sheep's clothing: union officials acting in their "private and personal capacity" as bargaining representatives for non-members.(Gravity Crane Services Pty Ltd)(Australia. Fair Work Act 2009)(Maritime Union of Australia)(Technip Oceania Pty Ltd v W. Tracey )
Nov 19, 2011; Union officials purporting to act in their "private and personal capacity" as bargaining representatives The Full Bench of Fair...