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Australia union warns of international UAE boycott
Reuters, 02:43 a.m. 11 December 1997 Eastern
CANBERRA, Dec 11 (Reuters) - International unions could boycott the United Arab Emirates (UAE) port of Dubai over the training of Australian soldiers to work on Australian docks, Australia's maritime trade union said on Thursday.
The powerful Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says the men, which it has called mercenaries, are being trained as strike breakers in an attempt to break its grip on the waterfront.
MUA Secretary John Coombs said the union would register its protest with the Dubai government about the training, but if that did not lead to the cancellation of the training contract, stronger action would be threatened.
"They're (the UAE) totally dependent on trade, and so we will be asking our affiliates to tell their shipowners not to go into those ports whilst they're training the mercenaries there," Coombs told Australian Broadcasting Corp. radio in London, where he is meeting with the International Transport Workers Federation (ITWF).
Coombs is a member of the ITWF executive board. The ABC said the MUA expected a formal agreement within the next 24 hours for an international boycott of Dubai port.
About 70 Australians, almost half of whom are on leave from the defence forces, are being trained as waterside workers at Dubai's Port Rashid.
The men were recruited by an former Australian Special Air Services (SAS) regiment soldier and a Vietnam War veteran, who have said they are acting for a confidential client.
The MUA says the group is being trained to act as strike breakers next year in a government backed attack on the heavily unionised waterfront.
"I have no intention of allowing this to continue, for these mercenaries, most of whom are ex-SAS people who know nothing about the waterfront but know plenty about iron bars and dark alleys," Coombs said.
"We want to stop it where it's being hatched."
Australia's conservative government has made it clear that it wants to break the MUA's stranglehold and reform the wharves, but it, and the local stevedoring industry, has denied any knowledge of the exercise.
In September, the MUA called on the ITWF to support it in a dispute at the northern Australian port of Cairns, where a U.S.-owned company had sought to replace iunionised dock workers with in-house staff on new workplace agreements.
Although supported by the government the company, International Purveyors, backed down when the ITWF intervened.
Copyright 1997 Reuters Limited. All rights reserved.