Productivity plummets for Patrick at Port Botany

International shipowners liken terminal performance to a Third World operation as stevedore urges MUA to sign pay deal

By Rob McKay | August 19, 2011

International shipping interests have joined the rising chorus of complaint about Australia’s dwindling productivity, focusing this time on Port Botany.

The concern is being voiced as Patrick Stevedores points out that, after 11 months of negotiation, the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) is yet to sign up for its enterprise bargaining agreement (EBA), one aimed at providing a 12 percent lift in Port Botany terminal productivity.

Shipping Australia (SAL) CEO Llew Russell was scathing about congestion at the Sydney container port, saying it fell below West African performance, damning the MUA for running a productivity cap and comparing Patrick unfavourably with competitor DP World.

MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin would not discuss the productivity cap accusation directly and blamed other issues for tardy recent throughput at the terminal.

"Machinery breakdown, poor weather, traffic in the yard and major roadwork within the terminal have all impacted on congestion at Patrick Port Botany in recent times.

"There has been a long and difficult process of negotiation for a new EBA with the previous agreement having expired nearly 12 months ago.

"These claims should be seen within the context of the argy-bargy of industrial negotiations.

"Both parties continue to seek a resolution and the MUA will continue to bargain in good faith."

However, SAL was in no mood for what it regards as excuses.

"It is appreciated that recent weather events has severely impacted on the terminal and every effort is being made by terminal management to return to normal operations but after those events congestion and falling productivity remains," Russell says.

"The terminal has advised that they are taking a number of steps to try to overcome the problem, including eliminating export empty containers for evacuation, limiting vessel exchanges to 90 percent of the contracted performance levels and berthing vessels based on turn of arrival rather than based on contracted windows.

"Vessels that have lost three days because of the initial weather affected congestion, upon return to the terminal have lost another three days and it is the causes of this lack of productivity that is giving rise to serious concern.

"Empty containers are rapidly building up in empty container parks and thereby causing equipment problems in China for example.

"Patrick have advised us that the major issue impacting on congestion is the continuing industrial unrest at the port. It would appear that there has been a longstanding productivity cap in place at the port which was agreed to be removed.

"Patrick has advised that their other terminals around Australia continue to meet and even exceed historical levels of productivity. This serious congestion at Port Botany is causing Australian exporters, in particular, serious problems at a time they are battling to maintain overseas markets."

"The interesting question is why the DP World terminal is not similarly being affected and whilst there have been delays there they have been much lower than the Patrick terminal. Some lines contracted to Patrick have lost business because shippers are shifting their cargo to vessels using the DP World terminal."

For its part, Patrick says that final sign-off is critical for the deal that it says will effectively add 16 percent over four years to the present $100,000 annual average wage and to dealing with congestion.

"The proposed agreement would be offset by a 12 percent improvement in productivity through the introduction of operational enhancements including continuous operations, which would ensure that operational and safety performance across Patrick’s ports meet international benchmarks," Director Paul Garaty says.

"Employees would receive an initial 4.75 percent wage increase as part of the agreement plus an additional 1 percent increase each year of the agreement contingent on safety and productivity benchmarks being reached."

Patrick says its Fremantle, East Swanson Dock and Brisbane terminals continue to improve and in some cases exceed historic levels of productivity, whereas productivity at Patrick’s Sydney Terminal, Port Botany has been hampered by the ongoing industrial issues.

"Despite the MUA giving an undertaking to remove a longstanding productivity cap and other restrictive work practices that have resulted in Port Botany productivity being 12 percent lower than Patrick’s best performing port, productivity at the terminal has since fallen by a further 2 percent.

"This is having a significant impact on Patrick’s customers."

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