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Haulage takes umbrage at parts of ACCC analysis

Recommendations supported but shipping lines and stevedores seen as getting easy run

 

Trucking interests have responded critically to aspects of this year’s Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report.

Responses from the National Road Transport Association (NatRoad) and Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) rejected to varying degrees the ACCC’s analysis.

The report and responses came hard on the heels of DP World Australia’s announcement of its latest charges hike.

Voluntary guidelines for the way stevedores impose new landside port charges need to be mandated to give the heavy vehicle industry greater cost certainty, NatRoad said.

It was time the guidelines – drafted by the National Transport Commission (NTC) with industry input – became law, it added.

“Landside fees are rising too fast but we at least want some warning of increases so members can negotiate with their customers,” NatRoad CEO Warren Clark said.

“We especially want the voluntary guideline requiring stevedores to give 30 days’ notice of any increase in landside fee or charge before it is implemented to become law.

“Sixty days’ notice already operates at Port Botany so let’s make it uniform across the board.”

Clark said NatRoad was concerned that some stevedores are actively discouraging High Productivity Vehicles by charging greater fees for deliveries by ‘long vehicles’.

“It’s our view that the range of so-called ‘novel’ fees are punitive for events like delayed or absent pickups, with one jumping by about 50% since 2020.

“We certainly take issue with the ACCC statement that ‘given stevedores provide landside services to transport operators, it is efficient for the stevedores to levy fees and charges on transport operators for those services providing that they are not excessive’.

“Feedback from my members and noted by the ACCC, is that delays in unloading containers at terminals and delivering empty containers to empty container parks have worsened.

“Idle time, missed slots and the need to work outside of standard hours can all result in penalty fees or increased staffing costs.

“It’s time we took ever increasing, opportunistic costs out of the supply chain and ports are a major pain point as the country struggles to drag itself out of the pandemic.”

 


Read about this year’s Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report, here


CTAA highlighted the finding that the aggregate operating profit margins for all stevedores across ports at Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane fell substantially following the entry of Hutchison Ports and Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT), but they have since increased substantially and now stand at 20.8%, which was up 10.9% on last year.

“The ACCC has qualified its findings by indicating that while stevedores now recover a greater proportion of their total revenue from landside operations than they did a decade ago, the bulk of the stevedores’ revenue still comes from the shipping lines, and that ‘the overall level of profitability does not indicate that the stevedores were earning excessive returns’. CTAA observed

“We are sure that there are many landside logistics stakeholders who’d appreciate an operating profit margin of 20%-plus!”

It also took the ACCC to task on the ever-rising Vehicle Booking System (VBS) fees across the board, and the Long Vehicle Fee implemented by Patrick in Sydney and Brisbane and FACT in Adelaide.

“Regarding VBS fees, at least the ACCC has indicated that the stevedores have not provided clear reasons for their substantial increases, but seem to accept the broad statements that from the stevedores that the fee is levied to recover the costs to the stevedores of providing the booking service, and a range of other reasons, including the need to recover general cost increases and investments in IT infrastructure.

“On the Long Vehicle Fee, the ACCC has seemingly accepted the stevedores’ explanation that long vehicles have a negative impact on their terminal resources and productivity, so they have introduced the fee to compensate for this. 

“The ACCC has concluded that ‘the long vehicle fees are reasonable as long as they reflect the additional costs associated with serving the long vehicles’.

“CTAA transport operators continue to dispute that there is any substantial additional cost to stevedores of servicing longer vehicles.”

The ACCC was seen as being diplomatic in its take on shipping lines’ pass-through charges transparency, saying that while cargo owners’ costs have increased on the transport operators’ side due to increases in TACs and empty container park fees, cargo owners “may not have received the offsetting benefits from lower charges paid by shipping lines to stevedores and empty container parks”.

“Putting it more bluntly, CTAA has always maintained that while the shipping lines have enjoyed a 27.6% decrease in the revenues paid to stevedores for terminals services (as reported by the ACCC), and have enjoyed lower empty container park fees through negotiation with their ECP providers, their Australian Terminal Handling Charges (THCs) levied on importers and exporters have not fallen by a commensurate amount … in fact, they have gone up!” it noted.

“In other words, cargo interests (importers & exporters) are paying twice for the same terminal services – once when higher TACs and other landside stevedore charges are passed through by transport operators, as well as now higher ECP access fees, and a second time through high THCs levied by the shipping lines.”

Despite those issues, many of the ACCC recommendations have support, with

CTAA agreeing with the Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) that:

  • The federal government should take steps to ensure port operations are treated as an essential service with a permanent change to industrial relations law to ensure that Australia’s trade gateways remain unimpeded.
  • Part X of the Competition and Consumer Act 2010 should be replaced by a class exemption that allows shipping lines to collude on service, but provides greater protections to shippers
  • This should be overseen by a federal maritime regulator with a mandate to ensure minimum shipping services are provided, and to potentially regulate other certain practices, including, for instance, a focus on shipping line container detention policies and practices.

ATN has sought an ACCC response.

 

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