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THE Victorian Transport Association said planned industrial action and the potential for interstate linehaul driver shortages due to the looming vaccine deadline, are creating a “perfect storm” in Australia’s supply chains.

The group said the Port of Melbourne stevedore Patrick has forecast delays of at least a week by mid-October because of 40 industrial actions planned by the Maritime Union of Australia at East Swanson dock. The union plans rolling work stoppages totalling more than 140 hours across 23 shifts in October, as well as bans on overtime work.

The industrial action is exacerbated by limited capacity for stevedores VICT and DP World to offload containers from the inevitable backlog of ships because of positive COVID cases at those terminals.

VTA chief Peter Anderson said, “Industrial action by the Transport Workers Union in relation to sham contracting is also adding to the concern, with the knock-on effect of work stoppages by road and maritime freight operators causing likely shortages at supermarkets and other retail stores across Victoria .

“On top of that, an industry that is already struggling with driver shortages may face additional pressures, with the 7 October deadline for Specified Worker Permit holders (Multiple Entry) just one week away.

“This cohort was given only two weeks’ notice to get vaccinated, and while the extension of booking deadlines has helped, it is unclear how many haven’t had a first jab,” he said, adding that like workers in other industry sectors, some drivers have exercised the personal choice to not get vaccinated, disqualifying them from interstate transport work.

“Victorians need to prepare themselves for a shortage of goods in the short and medium term as we head into Christmas because of the massive supply chain disruptions we anticipate from industrial action and labour shortages,” Mr Anderson said.

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The VTA said work stoppages at East Swanson Dock will double the time it takes to unload a ship from one to two days to two to four days, and there will be a knock-on effect to landside road transport operators collecting containers being offloaded from ships at a much slower pace.

Bunching of ships in the bay will be another by-product because of a limited capacity by other Port of Melbourne stevedores to service the backlog of container ships.

Mr Anderson expected around a 10% reduction in heavy vehicle drivers able to service the interstate freight task because of the 7 October COVID vaccine mandate.

“Because of the skills and licencing requirements to operate a heavy vehicle, we can’t just take drivers from one part of the industry to another, so we do expect some delays in linehaul freight because of the additional anticipated driver shortages after 7 October,” he said.

“As we approach the busiest time of the year, this is not an ideal scenario, with consumers ultimately paying the price by not having reliable access to the goods they enjoy.”

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