Posted on January 17, 2024
With Australia’s maritime union still standing firm in its dispute against the country’s second-largest port operator DP World, the sides are being incentivised to sit and solve the situation which is disrupting the nation’s busiest ports and costing the economy tens of millions of dollars each week due to delays.
The port operator has been accused of underpaying workers, forcing them to take annual leave, and failing to pay employees who work weekends and public holidays as well as trying to slash penalty rates and remove key safety clauses.
As the battle between DP World and the union continues, the country’s industrial relations minister Tony Burke has agreed to meet with the Dubai-based firm on Thursday morning following calls from the stevedore.
To push the negotiations to a satisfactory end, Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese said the company and the union should sit down to “sort this out.”
“This is a company that of course is based in Dubai that’s made considerable profits and certainly there should be a mutually beneficial outcome, and I’d urge both parties to organise in good faith and to get this done,” Albanese said in an interview with a local radio station.
DP World claims that it was engaging constructively in negotiations and was hopeful the union would return to the table.
“This is an issue of national significance, and we need a circuit-breaker so trade can go back to normal for the benefit of Australian consumers and businesses,” said Blake Tierney, senior director at DP World Oceania.
Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) secretary Sally McManus argued that DP World was “engaging constructively” in negotiations but rather “forcing the hand of workers” and wanted the government to intervene and back the stevedore.
“[They] want to whip up a crisis so they can get the government or try to get the government to intervene, so they don’t have to pay the workers more,” she told ABC TV.
Last week Splash reported on a senior Maersk executive describing the Australian supply chain situation as being at a “breaking point.”
My Therese Blank, Maersk’s head of Oceania, said at the time that Maersk’s Australian shipping schedules were already 10 days late and that it would take the supply chains a couple of months to fully recover from the current situation, given the current delays.
Some are more optimistic and see the government’s meeting as a hope to reignite discussions between the bargaining parties.
“The government can compel both parties to come to a lasting resolution via arbitration. That needs to happen, and it needs to happen now because it’s damaging to the economy and consumers,” CEO of Australian not-for-profit membership organisation Business NSW, Daniel Hunter, told Sky News on Tuesday.
Another part of the equation is a 489-page Productivity Commission report into Australia’s maritime logistics system published last week. It claimed that inefficiencies at the country’s major container ports were costing the national economy about $400m a year.
The report claimed that transport operators have no choice about which terminal they use when picking up or dropping off a container, so must pay whatever price a terminal operator sets. Also, recent rapid increases in terminal access charges have flowed through to cargo owners and consumers with the report concluding that voluntary protocols to address terminal operators’ abuse of market power should be strengthened.