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Sydney container gridlock disruption seen spreading

Brisbane stevedore facilities next on MUA list as Port Botany haulage counts cost


Late breaking news – DP World Australia (DPWA) says it has made progress with the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA).

“The Maritime Union’s decision to withdraw all industrial action at DP World Sydney has enabled productive negotiations at our Sydney terminal to resume,” COO – Terminals Andrew Adam says late today.

“We anticipate being able to finalise an agreement at DP World Sydney in the coming week.

“We’re encouraged with the progress we made this week in Sydney.”

MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin saysthe breakthrough “demonstrated that the proper application of bargaining was capable of resolving long-running, complex disputes”.


Sydney is reportedly awash with empty containers and the port’s container road haulage operators are facing monthly financial losses in seven figures, due to container logistics disruption.

This is despite a recent easing of MUA industrial action at one Port Botany terminal.

There is concern the Sydney situation may be replicated in Brisbane, starting with twice-daily four-hour stoppages expected to start today at Patrick and a full day stoppage at DPWA on Tuesday.

At the start of the week, the MUA ceased industrial action at DP World Australia’s DPWA’s Sydney terminal over enterprise bargaining and pledged no resumption before November 1.

This followed DPWA’s urgent application to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to intervene, but issues continue at other container facilities, and not just in Sydney.

“Congestion at the Patrick Port Botany Terminal alone will cost the NSW container road transport sector over $1 million a month in lost truck turnaround time productivity,” Container Transport Alliance Australia states, while ” conservatively” estimating that it is costing NSW transport operators about $130 per empty container in extra transport, handling, staging, and administration costs. 

“Meanwhile, the severe congestion at NSW empty container parks (ECPs) has already cost close to $5 million in additional transport operator handling, yard storage, administration and extra truck kilometres travelled.

“Growing berth and terminal congestion in Melbourne, Brisbane and Fremantle due to waterfront industrial actions mean that transport operators in those ports too face increasing delays.  

Read how the Port Botany disruption impacts went international, here

CTAA, in conjunction with advocacy bodies such as Shipping Australia, Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA), and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA), has urged the stevedores to take their cases to the FWC, seeking to have the industrial actions terminated and to pursue a settlement of outstanding enterprise agreement matters.  

The developments come as transport, trade and other enterprises and groups raise the alarm about the impact on the container logistics chain and therefore their own industries.

This includes leading global third-party logistics provider CH Robinson, which warns of price inflation in the lead-up to Christmas as backlogs cause delays at major ports, culminating in many empty shipping containers not being returned to Asia.

This is compounded in Victoria, home of the nation’s biggest container port and the high demand for household items during that state’s lockdown.

 “At the same time, there has been a decrease in Australian exports due to Covid-19 staff restrictions, which combined with the congestion at our ports, have caused chaos for transport operators, with costs set to trickle down the supply chain to Australian consumers,” CH Robinson vice president Oceania Andrew Coldrey says.

He also notes to flow-on effects of the Port Botany disputes, which have “placed greater pressure on Melbourne’s already struggling ECPs, culminating in further strain on trucking and additional supply chain costs.

“This issue has been slowly mounting and has reached a stage where Australian consumers are most likely going to suffer at the checkout.

“At the beginning of the year, planning by freight forwarders couldn’t have accounted for the differing consequences of a world pandemic.

“Our current import allocations are committed, and we are seeking more, but spare shipping allocation is now being sold at a premium, adding additional costs throughout the supply chain.

“With the busiest quarter almost upon us, we must address the bottlenecks at key Australian ports.”

Meanwhile, Sydney’s ECPs are under the cosh.

CTAA says it is estimated the Sydney system is choked with a surplus of 50,000 TEU or 36,000 individual containers and capacity has been reached, with ECPs either closed for the receival of import empty container de-hires, or only accepting a trickle of normal volumes.

“This surplus will continue to grow unless shipping lines can successfully evacuate a significant number of empties through scheduled vessel services or though ‘sweeper’ vessels uploading empties for evacuation.  The severe berth congestion has limited this to date.” 

FTA/APSA has brought these issues up in a letter to Patrick Terminals CEO Michael Jovicic, urging him to resolve its industrial relations matters through the FWC, as the federal government urged last week.

The letter highlights that NSW exporters “are faced with a critical reduction in available capacity and irregular services to meet current commercial obligations, jeopardising forward contracts with overseas customers”, due to delivery failures caused by an erratic supply chain, that they may never recover in a competitive global trade landscape.

It notes that, despite farmers expecting a welcome bumper grain crop after drought and bushfires, “new congestion surcharges significantly reduces (and in some cases eliminates) margins, crushing the ongoing commercial viability for many reliant on international export revenue.

“Adding salt to the wounds are the cascading costs for waiting times for trains, staged storage of containers and related logistics costs directly attributable to the port congestion.”  


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