ACCC institutes legal proceedings against MUA for hold cleaning demands

17 April 2000
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has instituted legal proceedings against the Maritime Union of Australia and three senior MUA officials in relation to primary boycott conduct, ACCC Chairman, Professor Allan Fels, said today.

The ACCC has alleged the MUA, and a number of its officials and members, have been engaged in a pattern of conduct whereby they unlawfully hindered and prevented, or attempted to hinder and prevent, vessels from sailing from various Australian ports unless the ship owner agreed to use MUA labour to clean the hold of the vessel.

The practice of hold cleaning has a long history. Demands for hold cleaning work were considered by Justice Sweeney in the 1976 Final Report of the Royal Commission into Alleged Payments to Maritime Unions and again by Mr Frank Costigan in the 1984 Final Report of the Royal Commission into the Activities of the Federated Ship Painters and Dockers Union.

The ACCC concerns relate to the means by which hold cleaning work is demanded by the MUA.

The practice of making a hold cleaning demand involves a union official or officials and members demanding that hold cleaning work which may be required by a ship operator be performed by particular union labour. In the past, such demands were made by officials and members of the Painters and Dockers Union.

The ACCC alleges that in recent times officials and members of the MUA have made unlawful demands for hold cleaning work. The ACCC alleges that on a number of occasions when a demand was not acceded to it was followed by various forms of unlawful action to prevent the vessel from sailing. In some instances, it has been alleged that persons have unlawfully sat on the bollards where the vessel was tied to the wharf so as to prevent the linesmen from releasing the lines.

After an extensive investigation the ACCC formed the view that there had been a number of contraventions of 45DB(1) of the Trade Practice Act 1974. Accordingly, on 2 December 1999 the ACCC wrote to John Coombs, National Secretary of the MUA, to raise its concerns about hold cleaning in accordance with the clause 1 of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Procedure established by the ACCC and the MUA on 7 September 1998. (Mr Coombs is not one of the three senior officials of the union against whom proceedings have been instituted).

The ACCC proposed to the MUA, pursuant to clause 2 of the ADRP, that a meeting be held as soon as practicable to discuss the allegations in more detail and to explore practical steps to cease or otherwise remedy any breach of the Act by the MUA or to otherwise satisfy the ACCC that legal proceedings are not appropriate.

After some preliminary discussions, the MUA rejected the ACCC's settlement proposal. Accordingly, the ACCC believed it had no option but to institute legal proceedings under section 45DB and section 60 of the Act. In general terms, section 45DB prohibits persons from hindering or preventing the movement of goods between Australia and places outside Australia whilst section 60 prohibits the use of physical force or undue harassment or coercion in connection with the supply or possible supply of goods or services to a consumer.

The ACCC will be seeking injunctions, declarations, findings of fact, the implementation of a trade practices compliance program, penalties and costs.

The ACCC is currently involved in 54 other cases in the Federal Court of Australia concerning the Trade Practices Act.
Release number: 
MR 068/00
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