Melbourne tug crews postpone planned industrial action

Trade services operator bemoans long list of impediments to freight

Melbourne tug crews postpone planned industrial action
Svitzer is looking for a new enterprise agreement. Pic: Svitzer Australia


The Melbourne container logistics chain, along with other sectors, has had a reprieve from seemingly endless bad news with Victorian tug crews postponing protected industrial action.

Tug crews in Port Melbourne and Westernport were due to recommence industrial action this afternoon but an agreed resumption of enterprise bargaining negotiations with tug firm Svitzer Australia halted that.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) says it has been attempting to negotiate a new enterprise agreement with the company for nearly two years.

The union said it and the company will also discuss potential options for insourcing and expanding towage operations, "including at the Port of Geelong where 18 workers were made redundant last year".

Svitzer said earlier that it was still in negotiations with the unions "because our current enterprise agreement is not fit-for-purpose and we are looking to address clauses in our existing agreement that impede Svitzer’s competitiveness, flexibility and agility.

"Over the last year, through ongoing negotiation sessions with the unions, we have reduced our claims down to less than 10, in a bid to progress negotiations and to reach an agreement. It is only the claims we see as absolutely necessary that remain. 

"Despite Svitzer seeking modest changes in conditions for employees to address business-critical needs related to flexibility and high-fixed costs, the MUA continues to pursue its aggressive agenda with more industrial action."

MUA deputy Victorian branch secretary David Ball said the planned industrial action was always about getting Svitzer to return to the negotiating table.

"In recent days, we have made significant progress, with the company agreeing to genuinely negotiate on these important outstanding issues," Ball added.

"Given the planned industrial action was always about getting the company back to the negotiating table, and that goal has been achieved, tug crews at Port Melbourne and Westernport have postponed today’s planned industrial action."

Read how trade groups want tougher action on port disruption, here


Svitzer and the union are at loggerheads nationally, much the chagrin of trade services firms.

Jackson Meyer, CEO of Verus Global, an international freight forwarding company, has labelled the situation as "dire," especially with the Christmas end of year peak season around the corner.  

"I empathise with the uncertainty exporters and importers are facing," Meyer said recently.

"These are fickle, unchartered territories for Australian businesses and consumers to navigate.

"As Covid-19 is disrupting the country, it's disappointing that the MUA has decided to proceed with industrial action at the most critical time for Australian’s, particularly given the chaos the stoppages have caused Australia's exporters and importers, and most importantly households across the country."

Versus Global enumerated average delays in Australia as of July 15 this way: 

  • Patrick Sydney Terminal still has delays of approximately 6-8 days for off window vessels and up to 5 days for window vessels. Indicated delays are for this week’s vessels only and could change depending on labour absenteeism, final productivity, and weather. This is likely to mirror the 2020 events, with similar delays of three weeks or more. 
  • DP World (DP) Melbourne is facing congestion due to all services arriving late and clashing. Vessels have commenced rerouting their scheduled transits due to the delays and the uncertainty of stoppages. 
  • DPW Brisbane is facing congestion due to all services arriving late and clashing. 
  • Melbourne terminals were affected over the weekend with heavy fog.
  • Sydney continues to battle a COVID outbreak, with lockdown extended until July 30. These restrictions can affect terminal labour procurement and operational capabilities at the port with increased cleaning protocols in place. 
  • Svitzer Tug Strike in Fremantle will affect services from July 15 -17.
  • Severe weather impacting Fremantle will cause vessel bunching and further delays.
  • Newly announced PIA action at Patrick terminals will impact vessel schedules.

"Working in the industry is currently a struggle – we are dealing with these unforeseen events that shut down the country, or shut down a port, which then morphs into a global shipping issue with devastating economic impacts, where the recovery plan will take years to take effect," Meyer says. 


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