Maritime Union of Australia

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Maritime Union of Australia logo.png
Full name Maritime Union of Australia
Founded 1993
Members 13,000
Affiliation ACTU, ITF
Key people

Paddy Crumlin, National Secretary Mick Doleman, Deputy National Secretary

Warren Smith and Ian Bray Assistant National Secretaries
Office location Sydney, NSW
Country Australia

The Maritime Union of Australia covers waterside workers, seafarers, port workers, professional divers, and office workers associated with Australian ports. As of 2011 the union has about 13,000 members. It is an affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and represents the interests of affiliate members in Australia. National Secretary Paddy Crumlin was recently elected as the President of the ITF and also holds the position of chair of the Dockers Section.

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. since late 2015 MUA and CFMEU have been in merger talks to create 'Australia's most powerful union'.[1][2]

Waterside Workers History[edit]

An early banner of the Sydney Branch of the Waterside Workers' Federation.

Trade unionism on the Australian waterfront began in September 1872 with the formation of two unions in Sydney, the Labouring Men's Union of Circular Quay and the West Sydney Labouring Men's Association.[3] Ten years later these unions merged to form the Sydney Wharf Labourers' Union. In 1884 the Melbourne Wharf Labourers' Union was formed with the support of Melbourne Trades Hall representatives, after ship-owners refused to allow waterfront workers attend Eight-hour Day celebrations.[4] 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. The system operated in Melbourne near the Flinders Street Extension, where unsuccessful workers would retire to the Wailing Wall opposite the Stevedores offices, while in sydney, The Hungry Mile recalls the often futile search for work by dock worksers.[5] 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. Employment of non-union labour and members of the Permanent & Casual Wharf Labourers Union of Australia almost killed off the Waterside Workers Federation. The stalwarts of the Waterside Workers Federation were subject to official suspicion and scrutiny 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 began recruiting members of their opposition, which ended with is absorption as a distinct branch in 1950. 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 1960s containerisation began to replace break bulk as the main means of transporting cargo, dramatically reducing the need for waterfront labour. Inspired by the example of the International Longshore and Warehouse Union in the United States, the WWF decided to co-operate with containerisation, in return for significant improvements in working conditions, such as permanency, an industry pension scheme and reduced working hours.[3]

In 1971 the WWF affiliated with the International Transport Workers Federation.[3]

WWF Film Unit[edit]

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.

Seamen's Union History[edit]

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.

From December 1935 to February 1936 there was a long strike against an unsatisfactory Award and poor working conditions. The strike failed, and the union was left divided and crippled. Due to failing influence, in the late eighties, the S.U.A. joined with the W.W.F. to become the M.U.A.

1998 Waterfront dispute[edit]

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.

Influence with the Rudd Government[edit]

In 2009 the union ran a campaign entitled Time for a Sea Change in Australian Shipping calling on the government to revitalize Australian shipping by giving tax incentives for the industry to invest in new ships, providing training for new seafarers, and introducing pro-union laws.[6] According to Glenn Milne, a Union Strategy document which was leaked in March 2008 reveals the union also wants a return to pattern bargaining.[7]

At the same time, in April 2008 the union began pushing for access to Howard Government strategy documents, which it believes will show ministers conspired with Patrick Corporation to smash the union.[8] The timing of this move was potentially damaging for the union as Julia Gillard was in the process of talking to employers, in an attempt to rewrite the Howard Government's workplace relations system. One editorial in the Australian Financial Review said that Paddy Crumlin had done the workplace relations debate a "big favour" by trying to "revive the ghosts of the [1998 waterfront dispute]" because the union's power could show Labor that industries such as cafes, restaurants and accommodation needed flexibility but were being "shut out of consideration because their lobbies are less powerful".[9]

Merger 2015/16 with CFMEU[edit]

since late 2015 MUA and CFMEU have been in merger talks to create 'Australia's most powerful union'.[1][2]

On February 29, 2016 at the MUA national conference delegates Voted unanimously in favour to merge with the CFMEU.[10][11]

Notable Officials[edit]

Notable officials include:

  • Billy Hughes - Secretary, Sydney Wharf Labourers Union and Waterside Workers Federation
  • Big Jim Healy - General Secretary, Waterside Workers Federation 1937-1961
  • Eliot V. Elliott - Federal Secretary, Seamens Union of Australia 1941-1978
  • Paddy Crumlin - National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia - Present / President, International Transport Workers Federation - 2010–Present



  • Milne, Glenn (23 March 2008). "Secret union deals". The Sunday Telegraph. p. 11. 
  • Norington, Brad (2 April 2008). "MUA bid for Libs' secrets". The Australian. pp. 1, 8. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 
  • Unattributed (12 April 2008). "Workplace relations laws should apply equally to all". The Weekend Australian Financial Review. p. 62. 
  • Unattributed (July 2009). "Maritime Union Backs 'Revitalisation' Policy" (PDF). Australian Maritime Digest (181). p. 10. Archived from the original (PDF) on 24 October 2009. Retrieved 3 January 2010. 

External links[edit]