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Sydney dockworkers strike

WHILE most Australian ports reopened Feb. 19, the Sydney ``wharfies'' resolutely stayed on strike. The strike is the first in four years for the dockworkers' union. It began Feb. 10 when 55 Sydney workers were laid off as part of restructuring at Australian Stevedores. Workers in 14 other ports joined them. In retaliation, the company fired 200 workers.

At its peak, 900 workers were idle, and 40 ships carrying about $5 billion (Australian; US$3.5 billion) of cargo affected.

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If there is no final breakthrough by Feb.24, Minister for Industrial Relations Laurie Brereton has threatened to move forward his new industrial relations legislation, due to take effect March 31, which forbids the firing of striking workers.

The company said the union breached an agreement on how to handle compulsory layoffs - an agreement that workers in all other ports had signed. Barry Robson, vice-president of the Maritime Union, who was camped out with dozens of other wharfies outside Australian Stevedores, says the dispute is over how to handle the layoffs: The union wants to go through attrition; the company wants immediate cuts.

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