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SydneySYDNEY: Australian wharves were returning to normal Friday, after dock workers called off work bans that had prompted some port operations to shut down and had threatened to hurt exporters.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) said employees at Sydney's port Botany had gone back to work Friday and those in Brisbane would return later in the day. Workers in Fremantle were to vote on the matter later Friday.

The development comes after Patrick Stevedores decided to shut down ports where the union had imposed work restrictions, which included bans on overtime and which were to last about one week.

The dispute follows months of negotiations over pay and safety conditions.

"Patrick has chosen to escalate this dispute by unilaterally closing down its container terminals, which was never intended by the MUA," the union's national secretary Paddy Crumlin said.

The MUA said it would consult with Patrick to resolve the dispute.

"Patrick owns the decision to shut down the ports but in any event the union has determined that work should resume in an effort to undo the damage of Patrick's decisions," MUA deputy national Secretary Mick Doleman said.

Patrick welcomed the move.

"We are pleased that the union has recognised what they were doing to the importers and exporters of Australia," director Paul Garaty said in a statement.

"Having held the importers and exporters in this country to ransom it appears the union want to be thought of as heroes for removing their own industrial action."

The work bans commenced on Australian wharves Wednesday, and an industry body said it had already begun to slow down some container ships or force them to consider diverting to New Zealand.

Shipping Australia said disruption on the docks could not have come at a worse time given exporters were already battling against a soaring Aussie dollar and given economic uncertainty in Europe and Japan.


Copyright AFP (Agence France-Presse), 2011


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