Maritime Union of Australia

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) was a union which covered waterside workers, seafarers, port workers, professional divers, and office workers associated with Australian ports. The MUA was formed in 1993 with merger of the Seamen's Union of Australia and the Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia.[1]

Maritime Union of Australia (MUA)
Full nameMaritime Union of Australia
Date dissolved2018
Merged intoCFMMEU
Members16,000 (2017)
AffiliationACTU, ALP, ITF
Key peopleNational Secretary

Paddy Crumlin
2000 - Present

Will Tracey, Deputy National Secretary

Warren Smith and
Ian Bray Assistant National Secretaries

Mick Doleman

Maritime International Federation Executive Officer
Office locationSydney, NSW

In 2017 the MUA had about 16,000 members. It was affiliated with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, the Australian Labor Party and the International Transport Workers Federation. From 2000 until its merger in 2018, Paddy Crumlin was National Secretary of the MUA and since 2010 he has been President of the ITF. He also holds the position of chair of the Dockers Section.

In late 2015, the MUA and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) commenced merger talks.[2][3] On 29 February 2016, at the MUA national conference, delegates voted unanimously in favour of the merger.[4][5] The Fair Work Commission approved the merger in March 2018.[6] The merged union was named the Construction, Forestry, Maritime, Mining and Energy Union.


Waterside Workers' Federation

The Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia traces its roots to the formation on the Australian waterfront in September 1872 of two unions in Sydney, the Labouring Men's Union of Circular Quay and the West Sydney Labouring Men's Association,[7] which merged ten years later 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 shipowners refused to allow waterfront workers to attend Eight-hour Day celebrations.[8] With Federation in 1901 and the impending introduction of an arbitration system, the national Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia was formed in 1902 under the leadership of Billy Hughes.

The Communist Party of Australia was formed in October 1920, and achieved some influence in the trade union movement, especially in New South Wales. Though its influence had dwindled to an insignificant sect by the mid-1920s, it kept positions in particular trade unions, including the Waterside Workers' Federation. The union was regarded as militant and disruptive to the economy, and has suffered numerous attempts to suppress its activities. In 1928, the Nationalist government of Stanley Bruce enacted the Transport Workers Act 1928 requiring workers to have a license, known as the "dog collar", to work on the wharves. Employment of non-union labour and members of the Permanent & Casual Wharf Labourers Union almost killed off the Waterside Workers' Federation.

In 1950 the WWF absorbed its industrial opposition the Permanent & Casual Wharf Labourers Union of Australia and in 1991 it amalgamated with the Australian Foremen Stevedore Association but retained the name Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia.[1]

Seamen's Union

The Federated Seamens Union of Australasia (SUA) was formed in 1876 by the amalgamation of the Sydney Seamen's Union and the Melbourne Seamen's Union, adopting the name Seamen's Union of Australia in 1906.[9]

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.

Major Modern Day Disputes

1998 Waterfront Dispute

In 1998 the Maritime Union of Australia was involved in a waterfront dispute when Patrick Corporation attempted to sack 1400 waterfront workers across Australia and introduce non-union contract labour.

2015 Hutchison Ports Dispute

On August 6, 2015, just before midnight, Hutchison Ports, located in Sydney and Brisbane, sacked 97 workers by text message and email - 57 in Sydney and 40 in Brisbane.[10] This led to one of the longest running community assemblies in modern times.


Influence with the Rudd Government

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.[11] According to Glenn Milne, a Union Strategy document which was leaked in March 2008 reveals the union also wants a return to pattern bargaining.[12]

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.[13] 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".[14]

Merger 2015/16 with CFMEU

Since late 2015, the MUA and CFMEU have been in merger talks to create "Australia's most powerful union".[2][3]

On 29 February 2016, at the MUA national conference, delegates voted unanimously in favour of a merger with the CFMEU.[4][5]

The Fair Work Commission approved the merger in March 2018.[6]

Notable Officials

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
  • John Coombs - National Secretary,Maritime Union of Australia 1993 - 2000
  • Paddy Crumlin - National Secretary, Maritime Union of Australia 2000 - Present / President, International Transport Workers Federation - 2010–Present


  1. "Waterside Workers' Federation of Australia (i) (1907 - 1991)". Australian Trade Union Archives. Retrieved 23 July 2015.
  2. "CFMEU and MUA enter merger talks to create 'Australia's most powerful union' - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". 16 October 2015. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  3. Telford, Ashleigh (16 October 2015). "MUA and CFMEU Merger Talks Underway - Maritime Union of Australia". Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  4. "MUA to begin merger negotiations with CFMEU | News". 1 March 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  5. "Maritime Union of Australia delegates vote in favour of merging with Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union - ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation)". 29 February 2016. Retrieved 20 March 2016.
  6. Wright, Patrick. "CFMEU, Maritime Union of Australia merger approved by Fair Work Commission". ABC News. Retrieved 7 March 2018.
  7. Bull, Tasnor Ivan (1998). Life on the waterfront: an autobiography. Sydney: HarperCollins Publishers. p. 130. ISBN 07322 6792 7.
  8. Tout-Smith, D. (2003). "Melbourne Wharf Laborers' Union, Victoria". Museum Victoria Collections. Retrieved 25 April 2016.
  9. Smith, Bruce A. (20 April 2001). "Seamens Union of Australia". Australian Trade Union Archives. Retrieved 24 September 2011.
  10. "Maritime Union launches legal action over Hutchison Ports sackings". ABC News. 12 August 2015. Retrieved 23 December 2017.
  11. Australian Maritime Digest, July 2009
  12. The Sunday Telegraph, 23 March 2008
  13. The Australian, 2 April 2008
  14. The Weekend Australian Financial Review, 12 April 2008


  • 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.
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