Sunday 18th Nov, 2018

INDUSTRY OPINION: Urgent resolution is required to salvage our international trade

Photo: David Sexton
Photo: David Sexton

THE infamous 1998 Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) industrial action was isolated to Patrick. That was bad enough. Nearly 20 years on and the unions are raising the stakes, ignoring approaches for dispute resolution via legal channels, and have signalled the intent of a united front across all Victorian stevedoring operations.

The illegal picket at Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) continues with devastating impacts on Australia’s international trade sector. While the union protest has officially centred on an individual’s denial of work (due to ineligibility to obtain a Maritime Security Identification Card), views from VICT and interested commentators suggest that there are more complex motives behind the protest.

Perhaps there is some truth behind speculation that the union’s actions are reaction to VICT’s highly automated processes, a response to VICT’s parent company for disputes in other regions, muscle flexing with talks of union bodies merging or perhaps that the National Secretary of the MUA is looking to showcase this activity as a part of a campaign to be elected for a record third term as Secretary General of the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF).

Freight & Trade Alliance (FTA) and the Australian Peak Shippers Association (APSA) has worked alongside Shipping Australia, the Container Transport Alliance of Australia, the Victorian Transport Association and Australian Logistics Council in a consistent media campaign condemning the protest, outlining the impacts on the economy and implications for Australia’s trade reputation.

Many small- to medium-sized businesses have also shared their stories of hardship as a result of export and import goods being trapped at the wharf. While this has obvious and immediate commercial implications for those affected, shockwaves have spread as a result of last Friday’s unprecedented union action initiating disruption to the Victorian operations of DP World, Patrick, Toll and Searoad.

Surely we will now see some form of government intervention?

We desperately need resolution to this matter and more so, we need confidence that such illegal activity does not occur again.

Without such reassurances, what will be the industry response?

Importers are now talking about the need to move away from “just-in-time” operational models to minimise the risk of being without stock.

This will require revised logistics models, somewhat winding back the clocks with large scale deployment of onshore warehousing. This ties up capital, increases costs and maybe the final blow for many Australian retailers looking to compete against powerhouses like Amazon and online retailers using highly efficient postal and air cargo services.

Successive federal governments have negotiated Free Trade Agreements to support trade and promote our exports. This will count for very little without confidence that our sea cargo gateways are accessible. The number one requirement for Australian exporters is that we have predictability in transport services and price to service a highly competitive global market.

Urgent resolution is required to salvage our international trade.

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