The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission today obtained interim orders restraining the Maritime Union of Australia, its national secretory, Mr John Coombs, and MUA official and International Transport Workers Federation representative, Mr Trevor Charles, from taking any action to bring about the boycott of certain ships loaded or unloaded in Australia using non-MUA labour.
In the Federal Court, Sydney today Justice Bryan Beaumont ordered that up to and including 4 June 1998 each of the respondents is restrained from being knowingly involved in causing the ITF or affiliates to threaten, institute, maintain or enforce any international boycott of or other interference with the ships loaded or unloaded by non-MUA labour in Australia.
In further orders, the MUA must inform the ITF that up to 4 June 1998 (when the matter is fixed for further hearing) it:
- makes no call on the ITF or its affiliates to boycott or other action to hinder the movement or unloading of the ships Columbus Canada or Direct Kea; and
- withdraws any calls for assistance, whether made expressly or by implication, for an international boycott or similar action.
The ACCC action follows the failure of the MUA to address issues of concern to the ACCC raised in discussions between the parties aimed at averting continuing breaches of the Act. In today's proceedings counsel for the MUA appears to have implied that the commencement of the ACCC proceedings was for an improper purpose and associated with Patrick Stevedores lodgement of a counter claim on Friday.
The first the ACCC knew about that action was via a radio program on Friday afternoon after the ACCC had gone to Court that day. If the MUA proceeds with a foreshadowed court case based on the allegations, the ACCC will seek a speedy resolution of the unfounded claims and seek full indemnity costs.
In other developments today, the ACCC has begun further proceedings against the MUA in relation to the boycott of stevedores serving ships formerly contracted to Patrick Stevedores who refuse to use labour from the Patrick labour hire companies. The ACCC has alleged that the MUA and/or certain MUA officers have formed an understanding and an intention to make sure that all stevedoring work for vessels formerly contracted to Patrick at ports where Patrick has ceased operations (including Newcastle and Port Adelaide) was performed by employees of the Patrick labour hire companies, now under administration.
As part of that plan, the ACCC has alleged that the MUA put in place boycotts of P&O terminals at Newcastle and Port Adelaide on the loading and unloading of the Althea and the Bay Bonanza, which had formerly been contracted to Patrick Stevedores. P&O had won the right to stevedore those ships when Patrick Stevedores ceased operating in those ports. In addition, it is alleged that the MUA threatened boycotts have led to a number of shipping lines and shippers (including K Line, Wilhelmsen, Pasminco and Newcastle Ships Loader) only using stevedores who were prepared to use employees of the Patrick Stevedores labour hire companies.
The ACCC has claimed that this conduct was engaged in for the purpose, and has had the effect, of preventing or substantially hindering those shipping lines from engaging in trade or commerce involving the international movement of goods, in breach of s.45DB of the Trade Practices Act 1974.
The ACCC has sought declarations that the MUA has breached the Act, injunctions restraining the MUA from engaging in such conduct in the future and findings of fact, which could form evidence in any subsequent private damages action.
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