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ACCC calls for wholesale reform of container logistics

Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report urges national response to massive changes


Government neglect of the container freight supply chain in a number of spheres sees the sector already sunk into mediocrity with the risk of crisis in store, a major annual report indicates.

All its recommendations require government involvement to bring them to fruition.

The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report 2020-21 noted a confluence of developments, some recent and others that have been underway for years.

They are:

  • Covid-19 has caused major disruption internationally and locally
  • the container logistics supply chain was transforming even before Covid-19
  • stevedore productivity has stagnated, despite substantial investment
  • industrial relations are hurting Australian container ports
  • competition between stevedores has changed market dynamics
  • the shipping industry has been transformed through more market power and bigger ships
  • current port regulation is inadequate.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of the container freight supply chain to Australia,” the report’s authors observed.

“The cost of not addressing these issues is likely to be significant for many Australian businesses and the Australian economy as a whole.”

Read how the situation looked in last year’s report, here

In relation to the situation haulage firms face, it stated that transport operators face delays loading and unloading containers at terminals and delivering empty containers to empty container parks.

This had led to an increase in idle time for them and an overall reduction in operational efficiency.

“Transport operators have informed the ACCC that delays have led to them missing booking slots on subsequent deliveries, leading landside operators to charge penalty fees,” the report noted.

“Transport operators also told the ACCC about difficulties obtaining bookings at required times, and working outside standard hours to make booking slots. This was leading to higher staffing costs.”

It also highlights that transport operators have said that occupied container parks cause delays in import container de-hires, difficulties in accessing export containers, truck queuing and added landside logistics costs.

A redirection of containers for de-hire from one ECP facility to another facility results in a time delay of at least 24 hours or longer for transport operators to manage and can end up breaching the detention time imposed by the shipping line.

In response to the many risks and challenges observed, the ACCC calls for the nation to:

  • address industrial relations and restrictive work practices issues across the supply chain
  • ensure that privatised ports do not levy excessive rents and charges ƒ
  • repeal Part X of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 which shields now-consolidated and overbearing shipping lines from being subject to competition laws 
  • invest in infrastructure to fix inefficiencies in the supply chain caused by larger ships, lack of rail access to Australian container ports and shortage of space in empty container parks.

Meanwhile, though many of the impacts on productivity and profitability have been laid with shipping lines’ consolidation and growing market power, the report does note a development that may help tackle container-chain congestion in future.

Shipping lines are . . . investing in development of collapsible containers, which may allow containers to be collapsed down to a quarter of its original size.

“This would enable parties to collapse and combine 4 empty units to form a single container, drastically improving the efficiency of shipping and storing empty containers.”

The full ACCC report can be found here.


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