Dock workers who have been blockading ports throughout Australia erupted in cheers Tuesday when a federal court ruled that a local company acted illegally in firing 1,400 union employees.
Federal Court Justice Anthony North ordered the company, Patrick, to rehire all the Maritime Union of Australia workers it fired and evicted from ports April 7 using private security guards and attack dogs.The full Federal Court later granted the company a 24-hour stay of the order so an appeal can be heard Wednesday.
Patrick contended the union stevedores were too expensive and inefficient. The union put up picket lines to blockade Patrick's terminals at major ports, principally in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth and Bris-bane.
The union and its sympathizers largely succeeded in preventing trucks and trains from loading and unloading cargo containers handled by Patrick's nonunion replacement workers.
The Maritime Union of Australia had been seeking an order to have the workers reinstated. Lawyers for Patrick stevedores said Tuesday they would appeal the court ruling.
North said Patrick dismissed its work force because they were union members, with the goal of replacing them with nonunion labor - an illegal act.
"There is an arguable case that the Patrick owners and Patrick employers have engaged in an unlawful conspiracy," he said.
The judge said he took into consideration the union's announcement that it would work for Patrick for free until the problems with the company could be sorted out.
Lang Corp., the parent company of Patrick, suspended trading of its shares after the ruling.
Patrick chairman Chris Corrigan said the company intended to comply with the order but called it "unworkable."
"I emphasize that these are the preliminary views of a single judge and, with respect, I believe his honor is wrong," he said.
Federal Workplace Minister Peter Reith also disagreed with the ruling. "My assessment is it's very hard to see how it can work," he said. "This is a court order for a closed shop on the waterfront."