Port Botany puts strain on supply chains

Up to 90,000 containers at Port Botany in Sydney are stuck in limbo as industrial go-slow action on the wharf threatens major delays and disruption to national exports.

The Maritime Union of Australia is planning industrial action at DP World’s Port Botany terminal with a four-hour stoppage on Friday followed by two weeks of go-slows alongside existing overtime and upgrade bans at Patrick and Hutchison.

The union wants a six per cent lift in pay and has denied that the delivery of medicine has been interrupted.

On Monday September 28, Patrick Terminals went to the Fair Work Commission to intervene with the industrial action and the Federal Government has offered its support.

The company has also contacted the Minister for Industrial Relations Christian Porter asking that the Commonwealth intervene in the proceedings.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) last week wrote to Patrick offering to suspend all industrial action at Patrick terminals for a month, if the company withdrew attempts to strip away existing workplace conditions and resume meaningful negotiations.

“This dispute has been manufactured by Patrick, with management rejecting all attempts by the union to resolve the issue and remove the need for industrial action,” MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said.

Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said the MUA industrial action in pursuit of 6 per cent annual pay rises is inflicting serious harm on the business, customers, importers, exporters and shipping lines.

“Frankly enough is enough. We have been in talks for seven months on a new enterprise agreement and the MUA have been inflicting strikes, go slows and work bans on the company for nearly a month,” Michael said in a statement.

“As a result of the MUA action there are now 40 container ships off the Australian coast waiting to come into port. Port Botany is running three weeks behind schedule and our Melbourne terminal more than a week. We now have close to 90 thousand containers being held up and there’s no end in sight.”

Patrick has offered guaranteed payrises of 1.5% and 2.5 % over four years.

Mark Goodsell, NSW Head of the national employer association Ai Group said the continuing industrial disruption at Port Botany has become a major threat to many key sectors of the economy.

“Companies expecting critical materials and equipment from overseas suppliers have been told that current delays will worsen to 2 or 3 weeks, with no relief in sight,” he said.

Mark said suppliers are being levied with congestion fees of US$300-$600 per container as shippers seek to recover their costs from port delays.

“Ai Group has been approached by deeply concerned members in many sectors including food manufacturing, energy and utility supplies, construction supplies and whitegoods sectors among others. They face shortages that will prevent them stocking shelves, supplying contracts and completing projects,” he said.

“Major shipping lines are now avoiding Sydney,

“Industry would welcome the intervention of the Federal Government in the current Fair Work Commission proceedings, aimed at bringing the industrial action to an end.”

Port Botany is critical for getting products like red meat, pork, grain, wool and cotton to overseas markets.

Tony Mahar, National Farmers Federation CEO said the grounding of passenger flights had made farmers far more reliant on shipping for perishable products.

“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,” he said.

“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.”

Port Botany handles 99 per cent of all container movements into and out of NSW, contributing $3.7 billion annually to Gross State Profit and supporting about 25,000 jobs.

Forty two per cent of all goods in NSW households come through Port Botany, including food, clothing, building materials and consumer electronics.

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