The relationship between national stevedoring business Patrick and the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has historically been an adversarial one, with disputes often heated and at times high-profile.
It was against this background that Deputy President Booth began working with the parties as part of the Commission's New Approaches initiative, when they were in dispute over negotiations for an enterprise agreement for the company's bulk and general division in Newcastle, New South Wales (NSW).
Rather than positional bargaining, where each side starts with putting its claims on the table, Deputy President Booth fostered an interest-based bargaining approach, where the first focus is on 'needs and concerns, the things that really matter to people.'
That bargaining framework, according to Patrick's General Manager, East Coast, Anthony Jones, opened up a 'true conversation about what's the heart of the issues that you're trying to solve.'
Following the resolution of the initial bargaining dispute in Newcastle, a New Approaches file was opened to cover the whole of Patrick Bulk Port Services (BPS).
Given the history between the parties, MUA Southern NSW Branch Secretary Gary Keane said the process would not have 'got off the ground' without the Commission steering it and 'would have fallen over, probably half-a-dozen times' without Deputy President Booth's assistance and guidance.
Deputy President Booth says there were two main streams of outcomes from the New Approaches process in Patrick BPS. The first was an enterprise bargaining round 'conducted in the fastest possible time they've ever experienced' with an outcome acceptable to employees and the employer, and achieved without any industrial action – 'not unimportant in the MUA–Patrick world.'
Second, and 'perhaps more importantly', were port-by-port discussions about changes to workplace practices that were 'utterly critical to the economic viability of those ports.'
Deputy President Booth has recognised that, often the level of trust is low at the start of a New Approaches process but there needs to be a desire to build trust — something both the MUA and Patrick also acknowledge.
MUA Deputy National Secretary, Will Tracey, notes that the parties 'have to have the ability to talk about issues that arise. Our interests over time will change. Without an honest relationship, this won't work.'
Patrick's General Manager, Customer, Warwick Sommer notes that it was only a couple of years ago that the parties had 50 matters before the Commission, at a cost to both that was 'quite crazy in hindsight' and describes New Approaches as 'one of the most fulfilling processes I've had in my professional career in terms of an idea being transformed into a reality. Though we're still in the early stages, I'm a big advocate.'
The MUA similarly found New Approaches to be a useful and rewarding experience with Gary Keane, Southern NSW Branch Secretary, stating that he would 'recommend it as a process.'
For the full case study of Patrick and the MUA's experiences of the New Approaches initiative please visit the Commission's website at www.fwc.gov.au