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The Maritime Union of Australia

The Maritime Union of Australia represents around 10,000 Australian stevedoring workers, seafarers and port workers. As a key affiliate of the International Transport Workers' Federation, it also helps represent 320,000 of the world's seafarers, who depend on ITF affiliates like the MUA for wage justice and protection against human rights abuses.

The Maritime Union is a strong union, with a long history of solidarity - working for its members, the community and causes such as the environment, an anti nuclear Pacific, land rights and justice for Aboriginal Australians the Australian republic, independence for East Timor and trade union rights worldwide.

The MUA came about as an amalgamation of the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Waterside Workers' Federation in 1993.

But its roots go back to the 19th century and the formation of the first maritime union in the world - the Seamen's Union of Australia in 1872.

The same year the Sydney Wharf Labourers' Union was established at the Oriental Hotel. But the first joint industrial action taken by wharfies and seafarers was one and a half centuries before amalgamation, when in 1837 Sydney wharf labourers and seamen outfitting whaling ships held a joint stop work meeting and strike. They were demanding an extra one shilling a day in wages.

With the birth of a nation and Federation came national unionism, The Waterside Workers Federation (1902) and the Seamen's Union of Australia (1906).

Both the SUA and the WWF have always been regarded as very politicised unions (too much so for conservative politicians and business leaders); and little wonder. The first meeting of the WWF was staged in Federal Parliament House, Melbourne on 7 February 1902.

Its leader was Billy Hughes, then the secretary of the Sydney Wharf Labourers' Union and a federal member of parliament.

The WWF of Australia was born in a political environment, sponsored and led by politicians and destined to become the nation's most politicised trade union, wrote union historian Rupert Lockwood in Ship to Shore.

Hughes was later to become PM of Australia.

Other past leaders of the SUA and the WWF of note include:

•Big Jim Healy (WWF general secretary 1937-1961)
•Eliot V Elliott (SUA federal secretary 1941-1978)
•Charlie Fitzgibbon
•Tas Bull (WWF general secretary, 1985-1993
•Pat Geraghty (SUA federal secretary, 1978-1993)
•John Coombs (MUA national secretary, 1993-2002)
In the early days work was tough and conditions brutal for maritime workers.

The union's earliest battles on the now legendary Hungry Mile are recorded in books and films the union made in the 1950s.

The wharfies' history was also made into a mural in the fifties and is now on show at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Darling Harbour.

Over the years many smaller unions amalgamated with the SUA or the WWF, including the Firemen and Deckhands, Federated Shipping Clerks' Union, Cooks and others, until this day when the MUA has come to represent port workers, offshore workers, deep sea divers - even office workers on the wharves.

The MUA is internationally recognised for its commitment to the underdog. Aboriginal rights, national liberation struggles in South Africa, Vietnam, Indonesia and Timor, democracy movements in Chile, Fiji and Greece are just some of the causes it has championed over the years.

Many of these struggles are recorded in the union histories, including:

Black Armada and War on the Waterfront by Rubert Lockwood, which cover the maritime workers bans on Dutch armaments to Indonesia during the independence struggle in the 40s, and Port Kembla wharfies' bans on pig iron shipments to Japan in the lead up to WWII.

The union histories Voices from the Ships, A history of the Seamen's Union and Wharfies also record solidarity and struggles, including action against apartheid in South Africa, military juntas in Greece and Chile and the war in Vietnam.

While maritime workers opposed Australian involvement in the Vietnam War, 1 in 8 seafarers died during the world wars while working in the merchant marine - their ships torpedoed or sunk by mines.

Benefits of MembershipShare Print
Union members earn on average 17% more than their non-union counterparts, according the Australian Bureau of Statistics. It pays to be in a union.

The MUA is recognised internationally as one of the world's top unions, providing unrivalled job security, pay and conditions.

Maritime & Mining Workers' Credit Union

A co-operative financial institution owned by its members and operated solely for their benefit, providing financial services. From its beginning in 1970 the Credit union has grown to cover 14,500 members and over $245 million in assets with offices in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Port Adelaide, Fremantle, Port Botany, Wollongong and Newcastle.

The Credit Union is a non-profit socially responsible organisation. During the 1998 Patrick mass sackings and lock out it provided interest free loans of up to $2000 to those in need as well as delayed loan repayments.

Maritime super

Maritime Super and its forerunners, The Stevedoring Employees Retirement Fund (SERF) and the Seafarer's Retirement Fund (SRF) have both been listed by Business Review Weekly two years running as Australia's top industry superannuation funds.

If you are a member of the maritime industry, your fund can provide you with a range of superannuation services from your first day at work and throughout your retirement.

Members Equity

ME is a low interest, no fee housing loan service for union members funded by industry superannuation schemes.

It has since been granted a banking licence and now provides low fee high interest savings accounts to members with ME home loans. Next year it will open to the public offering internet and phone banking as well as services through Post Offices.


Any injury in our industry must be avoided, and serious injury and death is unacceptable. All accidents and industrial diseases are preventable with the right safety culture, the right management approach to safety, the right workforce approach to safety and the right tools in the hands of employers and the workforce.

The deaths and serious injuries that have occurred on the Australian waterfront and at sea over recent times reflect poorly on the industry, creates great additional costs and mars the lives of all connected, particularly the families, in an incalculable way. We have all been touched by these deaths and injuries, and some of us have determined to lift the quality of the remedial response.

We have committed to one another that we will do everything within our scope of endeavour to halt more deaths or serious injuries under our watch. The campaign relies on our ongoing commitment and determination to succeed.

We have set up this page so that all of the tools available to Occupational Health and Safety Representatives are in one place and we hope that this will assist you to make all our workplaces safer.

Paddy Crumlin

National Secretary

The Maritime Union of Australia
Level 2, 365 Sussex Street
Sydney New South Wales
02 9267 9134

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