Logistics News

Push for urgent FWC attention to port disruption

Trade groups fed up with years of industrial action as MUA claims Hutchison deal


The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) may claim an enterprise agreement with stevedore Hutchison Ports Australia but that will fail to stop frustrate exporter and trade representatives from seeking emergency action to deal with ongoing industrial disruption at the nation’s container terminals.

Paul Zalai, Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) director and secretariat to the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA), reports that his side is seeking urgent Fair Work Commission (FWC) action through the federal Attorney General’s department in light of years of pain to unrelated parties.

 “The additional cost is one factor, however a critical concern for the entire import and export supply-chain is that with a bumper season for the agriculture sector, container volumes will quickly mount at these transition points with the intermodals and empty container parks likely to very quickly become heavily congested,” Zalai warns.  

“Despite constructive engagement with government and port representatives there are no obvious, workable contingency measures in an environment whereby Patrick are maintaining their position of cancelled rail windows.

“We are now seeking an urgent meeting with Patrick executives, but we do not expect that they will deviate away from their position, nor are we confident that that they and the MUA are likely to settle their differences after what has been an extensive and prolonged negotiation.”

He notes that, in line with its recommendation in a formal submission to the Productivity Commission’s Inquiry into Vulnerable Supply Chains, FTA and APSA informed members that the peak industry alliance is escalating its advocacy to the Attorney General for immediate FWC intervention and for the federal government to initiate a broader review on waterfront industrial relations.

They charge that Port Botany faces gridlock with exporters being the sacrificial pawns in calamitous negotiations between Patrick and unions.

During the last quarter of 2020, escalated industrial action faced by all three stevedores had crippling effects on the international trade sector resulting in many vessels by-passing Port Botany.

Read about the MUA deal with DP World Australia, here

As well as resulting in additional time and cost to move imported goods back across state borders, the events left commerce scrambling for supplies and our regional producers with the dilemma on how to reach overseas markets with limited shipping services.

“Rather than seeking compensation on contracted stevedores for failing to meet service requirements, salt was rubbed into the wounds of exporters and importers who paid an estimated $330 million in congestion surcharges to recover vessel operational costs,” they say.

This resulted in significantly diminished returns for manufacturers, farmers and regional communities whilst contributing to record high, multi-billion dollar profits by several foreign owned shipping lines.

The impasse between stevedores and workers was broken with separate 11th hour deliberations before the full Fair Work Commission (FWC) hearings resulting in both Patrick and DP World agreeing to continue out-of-court negotiations with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

DP World subsequently successfully implemented an Enterprise Agreement with its employees.

Unfortunately, unlike their competitors, Patrick and the MUA still have unresolved matters causing major disruption, noting their critically important operation handles more than 40 per cent of overall containerised trade volume through Port Botany.

Over recent weeks, the union re-instigated a series Protected Industrial Action (PIA) restrictions in what appears to have been designed to cause enough pain to Patrick to force their position in negotiations without taking extreme industrial action measures that would see the parties straight back to the FWC.

In a formal notice to rail operators accessing Port Botany, Patrick executive stated that they written to the MUA seeking an exception of certain roles from the industrial action within the rail operations to enable trains to access/ingress the terminal during the period of disruption.

Zalai notes Patrick has made the unilateral decision to cancel a significant proportion of rail windows from June 24 to July 15.

“This action, conducted without any consultation with exporters, will have devastating economic impacts on the New South Wales economy,” Zalai says.

“We remain uncertain how much suffering is required before this action can be the pre-requisite trigger required to again take proceedings before the commission.”

The immediate result will mean that regional exporters reliant on rail to move goods to the port will again face additional logistics costs. Rail operators will be forced to terminate.

Meanwhile, the MUA states that, after three years of negotiations, it has reached a “ground-breaking” workplace agreement Hutchison in Sydney and Brisbane.

Workers will receive five 2.5 per cent wage increases over the four year agreement once certified by the FWC.

The agreement with Hutchison will see the introduction of 20 days paid domestic violence leave, the creation of permanent rosters, and the addition of a clause that gives the workforce the ability to find alternatives to redundancies in the event of an economic downturn.


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