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'Deja vu' in Australia's ports as terminals are hit by new round of strikes

It’s “deja vu” on the Australian waterfront, as industrial action again causes lengthy shipping delays.

The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has begun a series of work stoppages at Patrick Terminals’ Sydney facility and, with further action planned for the rest of the month, berth delays now at five days are expected to get longer.

Patrick said on Friday: “Currently, the worst impacted vessel has a seven-day delay. Two vessels have already been sub-contracted and further opportunities are being explored for subcontracting of vessels.”

Subcontracting could get more difficult, however, considering the MUA action also planned at Hutchison’s Sydney terminal this week.

Furthermore, the work stoppages are spreading to Melbourne, with action due at Patrick and Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT).

Neil Chambers, director of the Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA), said the bans on overtime, shift extensions and work upgrades were “starting to bite”.

“As experienced mid-last year, berth delays have led to vessels making port rotation changes to avoid Sydney’s congestion, throwing export plans into turmoil,” he added.

“Also, the work bans have meant there is a constant ‘shifting of the sands’ on import container availability, export suspensions and some truck servicing across some time zones.”

Indeed, Sydney-based Southern Cross Cargo said non-stop demand for ocean freight, port congestion and weather issues were adding to the waterfront difficulties for cargo owners.

“There’s a severe lack of capacity, which is keeping ocean rates elevated while also driving air cargo rates up, as importers and exporters seek alternatives,” the forwarder said. “Many clients are now seeking to hold extra inventory levels this side, so as to avoid the massive shortages felt during last year’s [MUA] stoppages.”

Paul Zalai, director of the Freight & Trade Alliance, said the industry could be “heading for deja vu on the waterfront.”

He explained: “Last year, Australia’s ports were subjected to poor weather conditions, infrastructure upgrades and union disputes, all of which threw shipping schedules out of the window and led to a surge of extra surcharges and rate increases with minimal notice, if any.

“Currently only one stevedore, DP World, has had its enterprise agreements with the MUA ratified and, despite undertones of ‘negotiations are proceeding’, we are now faced with Hutchison Ports, VICT and Patrick having no agreements in place.”

Mr Chambers said this lack of enterprise agreements was leaving the waterfront “constantly in acute uncertainty and turmoil at a time when container trade volumes are surging”.

Source: theloadtsar - Sam Whelan

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