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Port of Melbourne peak season haulage woes mount

Truck waiting time blow out as container logistics challenges worsen


The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission’s (ACCC’s) warning of container logistics disfunction is being played out now in Melbourne, with one haulage interest saying the wheels are “well and truly falling off”  productivity there.

Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA) saw this as the result of a confluence of industrial actions, weather events, high peak volumes, port congestion and ship delays.

CTAA charged that truck turnaround times at DP World West Swanson Terminal have blown out to more than four hours since storms lashed the city two weeks ago, and due to high volumes and other operational problems.

Transport operators have been left being unable to collect all available import containers, and export receivals have been disrupted, leading to more congestion in West Swanson Terminal.

There are several large empty bulk runs scheduled to take empties into the terminal in the coming days for vessel evacuation.

“However, given the current state of poor productivity within the terminal, there is little confidence that these bulk runs will be completed in full. In turn, this leads to a build-up of excess empty container stock and landside congestion at empty parks,” CTAA stated.

The current congestion and poor terminal productivity were impacted too by DP World accepting a sub-contracted vessel from the strike-ridden Patrick Terminal at East Swanson Dock.

DP World West Swanson has issued a statement that “the convergence of multiple unavoidable events is exacerbating our ability to recover … We are exhausting all resources, both machinery and manpower.”

 “Unfortunately, four-hour truck turnaround times takes us back to the bad-old days of excessive queuing at DP World West Swanson,” CTAA director Neil Chambers said.

“Transport operators either must wear that added operational cost or pass it onto the cargo interests through truck waiting time [and] demurrage charges.”

CTAA expressed frustration that haulage interests were again bearing the brunt of issues outside their control.

 “It also rankles transport operators who keep being faced with higher and higher landside terminal access fees, including the announcement by DP World in October of further increases to be implemented from January 2022,” Chambers said.

“Quite rightly, transport operators and other landside logistics stakeholders are saying ‘where are the commensurate productivity improvements?’ There aren’t any!”

Read about this year’s ACCC container stevedoring report, here

At Patrick East Swanson Terminal, the ongoing protected industrial actions by Patrick’s workforce and the MUA in pursuit of their Enterprise Agreement log of claims had resulted in a significant reduction in available vehicle booking slots – up to 75% – for the collection and drop off of import and export containers.

“Transport operators simply can’t get sufficient slots and are asking Patrick to expend free time before import storage charges accrue,” Chambers said.

“Unbelievably, however, Patrick’s management has blamed the situation on the MUA, as well as on the Fair Work Commission [FWC] for supporting the MUA, saying that the situation is ‘outside of our control’.

“Therefore, Patrick is refusing to waive import storage charges.”

The CTAA viewed the stevedore’s problems as shared between itself, the MUA and an industrial relations system that continued to fail on the waterfront.

“Just to be clear – Patrick has been in failed Enterprise Agreement (EA) negotiations with its workforce and the MUA for almost two years, they have applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to terminate the current EA to break the negotiation impasse, but while evidence is being gathered and submissions made for the FWC to hear the termination application, the MUA has been allowed to continue its industrial actions which are protected under Australia’s current industrial relations laws,” Chambers said.

“But, Patrick has seemingly spat the dummy and is now saying that it’s everybody else’s problem, not theirs.

“As a result, they are going to punish importers by not extending free time for containers that the cargo interests’ transport operators can’t physically pick up because of the lack of available resources to do so at the strike-riddled Patrick terminal.

“If ever there was a prime example as to why Australia needs to change its industrial relations laws to recognise container logistics supply chains as an essential service that can’t be disrupted through unconscionable strike actions, and also needs to establish a federal maritime regulator that assesses the practices of container terminals on demurrage charges, and other charging practices, this is it.

“Transport operators are reminding their customers that storage charges are part of the contract terms between the shipper, the shipping line and its contracted container terminal, and the consignee.

“Transport operators are not responsible for any storage liability which is beyond their control. Importers and forwarders are being urged to take up their concerns with the shipping lines seeking storage charge waivers.”

Exacerbating the problem this week was Victoria International Container Terminal [VICT] experiencing equipment breakdowns, high demand for slots and longer than normal truck turnaround times, he added.


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