Logistics News

Morrison leads government condemnation of MUA

NFF seeks end to dispute especially as Port Botany is now more important for exports


In something of a pile-on, federal ministers have taken turns to whack the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) over waterfront disruption.

The attacks, from prime minister Scott Morrision down, have been short on details regarding action, though industrial relations minister Christian Porter has reportedly confirmed that the federal government will back Patrick Terminals’ approach to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to curtail the MUA’s protected industrial action in pursuit of a new enterprise agreement.

“We cannot have the militant end of the union movement effectively engaging in a campaign of extortion against the Australian people in the middle of a Covid-19 recession,” Morrison says.

“This is just extraordinary, appalling behaviour. That is just straight-out extortion.

“That is reprehensible. It’s not on and we will take what steps are necessary to ensure that this can be brought, I think, to a more meaningful and swift conclusion.”

His take echoes that of Porter.

“For a union to be attempting to hold the national economy to ransom to leverage its push for a 6 per cent annual pay rise is simply unforgiveable, especially at a time when we are in the grip of a global health and economic crisis,” he says.

“The MUA’s action is also a slap in the face to the million Australians currently out of work who must be amazed by the apparent indifference of the union’s leadership to their plight.

“It is vital that we see a quick resolution to this dispute.”

ATN is awaiting details from Porter’s office on what steps he will to take.

Federal health minister Greg Hunt has weighed in to object to the MUA’s objection that the disruption has failed to affect medical imports, saying that “at the moment, the supplies are already here, but the new supplies that we need are sitting in ships offshore”.

And federal transport minister Michael McCormack has supported farming calls for an end to the dispute.

McCormack’s intervention comes as the National Farmers Federation (NFF) enters the fray.

“On the road to recovery from years of drought, farmers are perfectly placed to help get this country back on track, what we certainly don’t need now is the breakdown of operations at Port Botany,” NFF CEO Tony Mahar says.

Mahar notes that Port Botany is critical for getting products like red meat, pork, grain, wool and cotton to overseas markets and that the grounding of passenger flights had made farmers far more reliant on shipping for perishable products.

“More than ever, farmers need Port Botany running smoothly. Instead, the MUA’s latest stunt has seen vessels delayed by up to 18 days and surcharges pile up,” he says.

“Right now, the parties need to demonstrate common sense and think about the bigger picture.

“The MUA’s antics are putting Australian agriculture’s international customer relationships at risk, and it could pull the rug out from under Australia’s economic recovery.”

The NFF sees congestion as having long been a costly issue at Port Botany.

“This industrial action has made congestion exponentially worse,” Mahar says, in comments that touch on points made by trade groups Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA).

“The congestion surcharges put in place by shipping companies equate to $17 per tonne of grain and $5 per bale of cotton.

“This essentially means that up to 5 per cent of the final price for these goods is being frittered away on a situation that should never have eventuated.

“With 30-35 per cent of the final price of agricultural commodities already going to freight and logistics, an additional 5 per cent of cost is a bitter pill to swallow for farmers.”

See how trade and transport bodies are viewing the dispute, here

Mahar says a breakdown of operations at Port Botany could have impacts on farmers beyond the cost of congestion surcharges, restricting farmers’ access to market, and damaging Australia’s reputation as a reliable supplier.

“With delays now pushing to 20 days and beyond, this situation risks doing irreparable damage to our international reputation as a reliable supplier of agricultural commodities,” he adds.

“Some shipping lines are now bypassing Port Botany and redirecting freight to alternate ports in Victoria and Queensland.

“Covid-19 restrictions have made interstate freight movement significantly more challenging. Having to organise landside interstate freight due to the calamity at Port Botany is another cost and headache that farmers simply do not need.

“Farmers are the end-users of port services and we have no direct involvement in this industrial action.

“What we ask for is that state and federal governments, and parties to this dispute, resolve the matter without putting the whole agricultural supply chain in jeopardy.

“We want to farm and sell our produce to our customers; we do not want to be pawns in an industrial dispute.”


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