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CBH PORT STRIKES: Kwinana workers’ plans for two week strike ‘averted’ after breakthrough in union discussions

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Cally DupeCountryman
Kwinana Grain Terminal staff and Maritime Union of Australia representatives at one of the recent strikes.
Camera IconKwinana Grain Terminal staff and Maritime Union of Australia representatives at one of the recent strikes. Credit: Maritime Union of Australia/Maritime Union of Australia

Further strike action at WA’s biggest grain export port has been avoided after a lengthy meeting between the Maritime Union of Australia and CBH Group led to a major breakthrough.

Workers at CBH’s Kwinana Grain Terminal were considering a two-week strike from January 27, pending the outcome of a meeting between the MUA and CBH bosses on Tuesday, January 24.

The strike — comprised of two back-to-back seven day actions — would have caused disarray to CBH’s grain exporting program in the midst of shipping WA’s record breaking 26Mt-plus harvest.

CBH’s Daily Shipping Roster shows 11 vessels carrying nearly 450,000 tonnes of wheat, barley, canola and lupins for four different grain traders scheduled to depart Kwinana Grain Terminal between January 27 and February 3.

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Representatives from both sides of the coin tussled for several hours during Tuesday’s meeting, which came after four days of non-consecutive strikes between January 12 and 18, and another meeting between the parties on January 19.

Ahead of Tuesday’s meeting, MUA WA branch assistant secretary Jeff Cassar said the bargaining representatives and CBH were “making progress” but there were a handful of claims unresolved.

He told Countryman after the gathering that the strike had been averted, with both parties reaching “agreement in principal on the bulk of outstanding matters”.

Mr Cassar said the port workers’ new EBA would be drafted this week and “subject to no complications arising within that process”, members would meet early next week to discuss the proposal.

He said workers would then determine whether it was appropriate to move to a formal vote.

While the four days of action were understood to have had limited impact on CBH’s busy shipping stem from Kwinana Grain Terminal, a consecutive two weeks would have been of major concern.

CBH last week labelled the strikes as “disappointing”, saying they posed a threat to the State’s lucrative grains industry.

On Tuesday, a CBH spokesman said this week’s negotiations were both ongoing and productive.

“CBH had a positive meeting with bargaining representatives, with both parties working through the non-financial claims,” he said.

“We made good progress on the outstanding claims, including the right to representation.

“We are looking forward to meeting with the MUA on Wednesday (January 25) to finalise drafting of the outstanding clauses over coming days and averting the upcoming industrial action.”

The action comes after a year of discussion between the MUA and CBH reached boiling point in December, when CBH allegedly “reneged” on several claims.

The discussion turned nasty this month, with MUA accusing CBH of “morally repugnant behaviour” and “capricious or unfair conduct” in a series of Facebook posts.

The work-related claims in contention were non-financial, after both parties agreed to a 5 per cent wage increase for late last year.

A major sticking point has been a workers’ push for the “right to representation” in disciplinary meetings, which meant staff could have a union representative present.

The MUA last week softened the claim to mean while employees had a right to representation, CBH could revoke it case-by-case.

The outcome of that claim was still being thrashed out at the time of print on Tuesday, but the revoking of strike action could imply it was resolved in some capacity.

Discussions between the union and CBH started in 2021 and continued in what Mr Cassar said was “good faith” for most of the year, before turning sour in December.

CBH’s annual results revealed a record surplus of $497.m and cemented plans to spend $4b on its network during the next 10 years.

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