A high-level meeting was held today (8 November) to discuss the ongoing issues of port congestion, port performance and industrial relations, as highlighted in the recent Container Stevedoring Monitoring Report 2020-21, published by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

The meeting was hosted by the Department of Home Affairs and participants included the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and a wide range of industry participants, including stevedores, port representatives and a variety of shipper representatives.

Commenting on the meeting, Shipping Australia CEO Melwyn Noronha said, “Ports don’t like to be measured on their performance”.

In a speech at the meeting, Mr Noronha said uninterrupted international trade is vital to the interests of all Australians.

“They rely on it for jobs, goods and prosperity. Ocean shipping carries 99.9% of everything that comes into, or leaves, this country,” he said.

“The job of a ship is to deliver goods from Port A to Port B – and that is what ships are doing. But when ships arrive at Port B, they are held up. They are forced to wait, sometimes for many hours, before they berth.”

Mr Noronha said the ACCC report has shown us that port congestion is a problem, port performance is a problem and industrial relations is a problem. Meanwhile, the report also shows that there are landside logistics problems too.

“A root cause is a mismatch in working hours,” he said.

“Ships work 24/7, trucks don’t. They don’t work weekends. They don’t work evenings. They don’t work public holidays. The mismatch doesn’t work – these problems must be solved.”

Mr Noronha said as a minimum, there must be good quality port governance and oversight.

“This must include price monitoring, which must be tied to port performance, and ships must be berthed promptly,” he said.

The SAL CEO went on to say that enterprise bargaining must have short, strict timeframes.

“If the parties can’t agree, it must go to arbitration for immediate settlement. Start and expiry dates of waterfront EBAs must be staggered so they cannot expire at the same time,” he said.

“There must be an absolute prohibition on any industrial action that prevents stevedores from working subcontracted ships.”

“[Also] the working hours of the trucking industry must be aligned to the working hours of the shipping industry.

“Why? Because uninterrupted trade is vital to the interests of all Australians.”