Exclusive: Union stand-off at Macquarie Polish port

The International Transport Workers’ Federation has called on the Australian investor to help resolve alleged issues relating to employee treatment.

The International Transport Workers' Federation (ITWF), a London-based federation of transport workers' unions, has called on Australia's Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (MIRA) to help resolve issues involving portfolio company DCT Gdansk and a union representing some of its employees. 

The ITCF is supporting Polish union Solidarity, which is alleging that a DCT Gdansk employee and union leader – Maciek Konopka – is the “latest case” of a union member being forced out of the company. 

Solidarity has recently drawn attention to what it claims are “the practice of keeping workers employed on temporary contracts for years, low pay compared to other Polish ports, and failure to pay extra for working at a higher level”. It says it wants a collective agreement with DCT Gdansk to deal with such issues. 

A spokesperson for ITWF, who contacted Infrastructure Investor, said: “We see investors also having responsibility here and are calling on them to help resolve these issues. Macquarie's Global Infrastructure Fund II (GIF II) is the majority owner of DCT Gdansk and is represented on its board, therefore we believe this is an important test of how responsible they are as an investor in infrastructure assets.” 

The spokesperson added: “We have also spoken to some of Macquarie's institutional investor clients to make them aware of the situation.” 

“Macquarie makes quite a big deal of its commitment to ESG issues in its annual report, and its asset management arm is a signatory of the UN Principles for Responsible Investment. So we think this is an opportunity to demonstrate this commitment is real,” the spokesperson continued. 

Macquarie declined to comment on the allegations, with a DCT Gdansk spokesperson saying that it was an “operational matter and it would not be appropriate for a shareholder to comment on day to day activities”. 

In a detailed rebuttal of the union allegations, the spokesperson said the company has “never dismissed a permanent employee nor ever failed to renew the contract of a temporary employee for being members of a union or for raising concerns with us about matters regarding DCT”. 

They added that the use of temporary employment contracts was “normal practice” given the volatility of traffic volumes on a weekly or monthly basis and that they were “in conformity with Polish labour law” and pointed out that the temporary contracts provide the same rights as permanent contracts in areas such as health care, insurance and pension contributions. 

In response to the accusation of low pay, the spokesperson said “all our positions are reviewed according to a report prepared by Mercer Consulting in August 2014 – our employees earn the same wages as their counterparts in Poland in similar roles”. 

It was also stated that the annual employee turnover level at the firm is less than 2.5 percent a year. 

GIF II is a 10-year closed-end infrastructure fund with a focus on OECD countries (excluding Australia) as well as Hong Kong and Singapore. Aside from DCT Gdansk, investments include UK transmission services firm Arqiva and US regulated electricity business Duquesne Light Holdings. 

DCT Gdansk was launched in October 2007 and is the fastest growing terminal in Poland, serving imports and exports. It also serves as a reloading hub for Saint Petersburg and other ports in the Baltic Sea region.