Logistics News

MUA’s Sydney waterfront industrial action spurs Canberra call

Union lashes stevedores and shipowners as McCormack and Birmingham join chorus


Federal transport minister Michael McCormack and his trade minister colleague, Simon Birmingham, have added their voices to the Sydney waterfront industrial dispute.

While maintaining a public silence until now on the cost of living and trade impacts of stevedores’ unconstrained and burgeoning container access charges nationally, the federal politicians have reacted to shipping disruption affecting Sydney.

And now they appear to have conflated the two, with McCormack insisting the federal government “understood how frustrated Australian shippers and transport operators were with increases in stevedore fees and charges, but actions disrupting shipping operations further were not the solution”.

“During this pandemic, the entire nation has seen just how much we rely on our freight industry to keep shelves stocked and our economy running and how tirelessly all operators – including shippers – have been working to make this happen,” McCormack says.

“Australia relies on shipping with 99 per cent of our trade moved by sea, so it is absolutely vital we see a quick resolution achieved between all parties.”

Birmingham notes the Covid-19 pandemic is already placing immense strain on global supply chains and further disruptions were the last thing exporters needed. 

Read Shipping Australia’s waterfront intervention call, here

“Our exporters are already having to grapple with significant pressures as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic and now is the worst possible time for such actions that only compound these pressures,” Birmingham says. 

“It’s hard enough for our farmers and businesses right now and the last thing they need is further uncertainty and delays in getting their product out of Australia.”

The issue has seen federal industrial relations minister Christian Porter weigh in, saying the government encouraged all parties to follow the workplace laws and make agreements that contribute to higher productivity.

“The Government expects all parties to comply with Australian workplace laws, to bargain in good faith and make agreements that contribute to higher productivity,” Porter adds.

“The independent Fair Work Commission is available to assist parties when there is a dispute during enterprise bargaining and the government encourages parties to take advantage of this if they need to.”

However, none of the criticism holds water for the MUA, which accused the stevedores of being central to the disruption and containership industry body Shipping Australian Ltd (SAL) of being hysterical over its call for government intervention.

In commentary to shipping news service DCN published on the union’s website, national secretary Paddy Crumlin points to an eight-hour Patrick closure for rail infrastructure work –  for the third time in “in the last few months” – followed a single “four-hour work stoppage. Other actions have been restricted to bans on overtime and upgrading to higher positions.”

Crumlin also notes ongoing problems with a new terminal operating system and recent 48-hour halt due to substation power cable damage during construction works.


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