NFF spotlights ongoing logistics costs as MUA offers port deal

By: Rob McKay


Farming lobby slams chronic burdens, such as container access charges

NFF spotlights ongoing logistics costs as MUA offers port deal
Ash Salardini

 

As container terminal industrial action takes another step to resolution, the National Farmers Federation (NFF) has turned its attention to inefficient and unproductive transport cost burdens.

While attention is lavished on the intense but short-term Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) disruption at port container terminals, rural industries’ frustration continues at a high pitch over growing underlying costs that have been allowed to fester and are seeking reform.

"Farmers have unfortunately become accustomed to being short-changed from commercial arrangement up and down the food and fibre supply chain," NFF general manager of trade Ash Salardini tells ATN.

"As an example, stevedoring costs at the Port of Melbourne increased from $3.50 to over $85 per container in under three years – that is a 410 per cent increase in cost.

"When there is a dispute between unions and stevedoring companies, the cost of the congestion is ultimately passed onto smaller end users, such as farmers.

"It is farmers that will have to pay the $250 congestion surcharge charged by shipping lines as a result of the dispute between stevedoring companies and the unions. 

"All parties seem very comfortable to dip their hands in the pocket of the farmer if there should be any inconvenience or cost created, god forbid, the shipping line, stevedore, or infrastructure take a financial hit."    


Read about the NFF’s concern over port disruptions, here


The comments emerge on the day that the MUA offers some flexibility in its enterprise bargaining campaign involving Patrick, just as the parties are entering the Fair Work Commission (FWC).

The 11th-hour offer would see the company’s existing workplace agreement extended for 12 months, maintaining the status quo with existing terms and conditions, while providing a reasonable 2.5 per cent pay rise.

It would "prevent any form of protected industrial action from occurring, providing certainty for Patrick, workers, and the Australian community".

"When the MUA and Patrick sit down for a conciliation hearing before the Fair Work Commission today, the union will be putting forward this genuine, reasonable, and fair peace offer that could bring the current dispute to an immediate end," MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin says.

"The Maritime Union of Australia will today use a conciliation hearing of the Fair Work Commission to formally offer a peace deal to Patrick that could deliver an immediate end to all industrial action at the company’s container terminals."

The Victorian Transport Association (VTA) joins the chorus calling for understanding, restraint and an ‘attitude of reason’ in uniquely difficult times.

"Our economy and our communities are desperately trying to survive a once in 100-year pandemic that is pushing our economy towards a deep recession," said VTA CEO Peter Anderson.

"Hundreds of thousands of Australians are out of work and have little short-term prospects of finding a job, yet we have squabbling and disagreement in a sector that has been fortunate enough to maintain near full employment on above average wages.

"All parties need to put the national interest ahead of self-interest and spare Australian consumers the higher prices and inevitable shortages they will face if their industrial action persists," Anderson says.

The VTA notes that supply chains around Australia and the world have been upended since the Covid-19 pandemic began impacting ordering patterns earlier in the year, creating supply chain bubbles, surges in supply and false readings of market demand.

"With the economy outside Victoria gradually reopening over the last few months, we are now seeing a spike in inbound freight to stock depleted warehouses, distribution centres, wholesalers and retailers in the lead up to Christmas," Anderson says.

"This has created a situation where stevedores and wharf carriers already have larger volumes of inbound freight to offload, and expectations of significant outbound freight with the cropping season upon us. Ongoing work stoppages are making an already challenging problem worse than it needs to be."

Anderson says ultimately it is freight customers and ordinary consumers who will wear the consequences of industrial action in the form of higher prices.

"The cost of carting thousands of containers by road or rail to Sydney from other ports will inevitably be passed on throughout the supply chain which ultimately will be reflected in higher prices consumers will have to pay," he adds.

"After a horror year where people have lost lives and livelihoods, does the port supply chain really need to subject Australians to higher prices they can’t or won’t pay by persisting with this type of disruption?

" There is a time and a place for protected industrial action under our system but now, in the midst of recovering from a pandemic, is not the time."

Patrick, meanwhile, has released details on delays it says are affecting operations.

It states that that Melbourne will be 11 days behind schedule by Friday, Sydney will be more than three weeks, Brisbane nine days behind and Fremantle three days behind.

It adds that there are now 38 ships being held up around Australia and en route from Asia.

Patrick’s full list of impending industrial action around the country can be found here.

 

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