Australian Union Stops Action Threatening Sydney Container Terminal

union announces it will end action against Australia's container terminal operator
(file photo)

Published Sep 21, 2020 5:52 PM by The Maritime Executive

Faced with growing pressure and pending government action, the Maritime Union of Australia announced that it was withdrawing its industrial action against Australia’s largest container terminal that had been causing growing frustrations in the shipping industry. The union agreed not to pursue its action at Sydney’s Port Botany before November 1.

The dispute has started earlier in September when the union and terminal operators failed to reach an agreement for a new contract. According to ports operator DP Australia this was just the latest in a series of actions as the talks dragged on for over two years.

Stagging slowdowns, refusing overtime, sickouts, and other actions the union has been conducting a rolling effort termed an industrial action. The effort had progressed through terminals ranging from Brisbane to Freemantle and Melbourne but the latest efforts in Sydney had been the most disruptive. Vessels were reporting delays at the terminal or getting into the terminal and shipping lines were responding with surcharges. Last week it was reported that shipping giant Maersk would begin blanking sailings to avoid the disruption.

The growing calls to stop the action included Australia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Development, Michael McCormack who said the action and the disruption were not the solution. He warned of the consequences from the frustrations of shippers and transporters. Many had questioned the timing of the action as the country works to recover from the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Faced with massive disruption to its operations, DP World Australia had asked Australia’s Fair Work Commission to intervene. With the regulators set to hold a hearing, the union sent a letter to the commission according to the Shipping Australia association saying it would take no further action at Port Botany before November 1.

DP World welcomed the news of the union’s decision announcing to shippers that normal service would resume immediately at the terminal. DP World also said the union’s decision to end the action work would clear the way to resume talks towards a final agreement.

Shipping Australia, which represents all the major carriers and operators, however, noted, “The withdrawal of what was imminent industrial action at DP World Australia does not solve the matter. This is not the end. It is temporary.”

They warned that it would require time to resolve the backlog that had been created. Further, they noted that industrial action is still possible at the terminals operated by Hutchison in Brisbane and Sydney, and at Patrick Terminals in Brisbane, Sydney, and Melbourne. There is also the possibility of industrial action at Svitzer, the tug operator. “Congestion and delay will not ease across the waterfront until all the terminals are able to work unhindered,” said Shipping Australia.

They called on both sides to enter into a binding workplace agreement noting that otherwise, the union will have the power to re-start industrial action in November.