Industrial Action Hitting Wharfs Hard

Wharfs and ports are beginning to feel the full effect of the latest round of protected industrial action by members of the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) at Patrick Terminals around Australia, as well as the latest actions announced at Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT), Melbourne.

This is an abridged update — we thank CTAA for their efforts collating the information.

Patrick Terminals experience huge delays

The Protected Industrial Actions (PIAs) are resulting in landside container logistics facing added costs and delays — with vessel berthing delays rising to approx. 3.5 days in Sydney, and 2 days in Fremantle.

Work stoppages at the Patrick Brisbane Terminal have been notified also from 15 June to 17 June.  At the time of writing, the Patrick Melbourne Terminal has been spared these PIAs to date.

As experienced mid last year, berth delays have led to vessels making port rotation changes to avoid Sydney’s congestion, throwing export receival plans into turmoil.  Also, the work bans have meant there is a constant shifting of the sands on import container availability, export receival suspensions, and some truck servicing delays across some time zones.

To make matters worse, Patrick Terminals suffered I.T. systems’ outages last week in Sydney, Brisbane and Fremantle impacting on road receival & delivery operations, with some zones cancelled as a result.

In short, the PIAs are biting hard and with the next work stoppage on the horizon — the disruption and damage caused is set to continue.

VICT, Melbourne — Latest

On Monday, 7 June, Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) in Melbourne notified stakeholders of Protected Industrial Action (PIA) by the MUA of 12 hour stoppages, commencing Friday, 11 June:

  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 11th June
  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 12th June
  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 13th June
  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 14th June
  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 15th June
  • 12 hour stoppage from 18:00 on 16th June

Regrettably, these PIAs will impact larger volume container transport operators operating landside night shift operations into VICT for import pick-ups and export deliveries.

We predict devastating impacts on landside interface productivity and added costs. To make matters worse Patrick Terminals, VICT (Melbourne), and Hutchison Ports Australia (Sydney & Brisbane) have all yet to finalise EA negotiations with the unions, leaving the Australian container handling waterfront constantly in acute uncertainty and turmoil at a time when container trade volumes are surging.

VICT Fee Increases

With active disputes and unresolved PIAs — you’d think now wouldn’t be the time to issue a fee increase — well you’d be wrong. Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) has issued its 30-day notice of intention to increase its landside Infrastructure Surcharge from 1 July 2021 by 8.22% from $131.03 (+GST) to $141.80 (+GST) for all laden containers.

That means VICT Infrastructure Surcharge is now the highest of any container stevedoring terminal in Australia.

The fees don’t end there…

VICT also intends to introduce a Premium Slot Fee of $109.50 (+GST) to apply to late vehicle booking slot requests, and a Stack Run In (Empty) fee of 12.50 (+GST) applying to each empty container delivered as a bulk run from empty container parks.

NTC Stevedore Issues Guideline Change

In November last year, Federal and State/Territory Transport Ministers instructed the NTC to develop voluntary guidelines in response to widespread concerns about the unfettered nature of the ability of the stevedores to impose landside fee increases with no negotiation and minimal notice.

Like the CTAA, FTA and APSA — ACF is concerned that a set of national voluntary approach will not offer the level of protection to transport operators, importers & exporters that is warranted.

You only need to look at the latest VICT fee increase to see continued charges with minimal discussion and time to respond.

Empty Container Parks – Fee Increases / Hours of Operation

There have been numerous announcements of Notification Fee increases at Empty Container Parks in all ports, as well as some hours of operation amendments:

  • SA Container Park, Adelaide: Notification Fee increase (by 66.67%) to $25 (+GST) – effective 1 June 2021
  • Qube / MCS Cooks River Sydney: Notification Fee increase (by 36.36%) to $75.00 (+GST) – effective 7 June 2021
  • Tyne AFCS, Fremantle: Notification Fee increase (by 47.39%) to $45.10 (+GST) – effective 21 June 2021
  • Qube Brisbane Port Empty Park (BPEP):Notification Fee increases (by 29.61%) to $66.75 (+GST) Monday to Friday / $79.50 (+GST) on Weekends / Public Holidays – effective 7 June 2021
  • Tyne Brisbane:Notification Fee increase (by 31%) to $65.10 (+GST) – effective 21 June 2021
  • Gateway Container Park, Brisbane:Notification Fee increase (by 43.92%) to $42.60 (+GST) – effective 28 June 2021
  • Tyne Punchbowl, Sydney:Notification Fee increase (by 32.69%) to $75.10 (+GST) – effective 21 June 2021
  • Tyne ACFS, Port Botany:Notification Fee increase (by 32.69%) to $75.10 (+GST) – effective 21 June 2021
  • MT Movements, Port Botany:Notification Fee increase (by 23.93%) to $75.10 (+GST) – effective 21 June 2021

In addition, the following amendments to opening hours have been made:

  • Containerspace, Brooklyn Melbourne: trialled an increase in opening hours to 8pm, Monday to Friday.  However, due to lack of take up by transport operators, has reverted to 5am to 5pm, Monday to Friday and 6am to 1pm, Saturday.
  • Qube Coode Road, Melbourne: has reduced operating hours to Monday to Friday 6.30am to 3.30pm – Notifications to be booked at Qube Vic Dock after 3.30pm.
  • Oceania Container Services (OCS), Brooklyn Melbourne:has extended hours to 24/5 – 6am Monday through to 6am Saturday.

Empty Park Delays – Peak Season Planning

The average number of days transport operators have needed to hold empty containers prior to securing a de-hire slot has been volatile throughout Covid. During the height of the import surge at the end of 2020 that waiting time blew out to over 7 days. However, even in more ‘normal times’ the average is regularly 2+ days.

Most transport operators have terms & conditions with their import customers regarding advanced notice that containers are ready for pick-up and de-hire.  Adequate time is required for transporters to collect the empty and successfully transact the de-hire before shipping line policies on container detention fees are breached.

In light of the current circumstances, it is likely that some of those terms & conditions are now inadequate, leading to more friction between transport operators, their import customers and shipping lines about the payment of significant detention charges.

NSW Ports’ Empty Container Incentive Scheme

NSW Ports is implementing an Empty Container Incentive Scheme (ECIS) from 1 July 2021 to encourage shipping lines to maintain a healthy balance in containers imported (full & empty) and containers exported (full & empty).

One of the extreme difficulties experienced by all landside stakeholders over the last year has been the significant build-up of surplus empty containers leading to terminal, empty container park and transport yard congestion.  NSW Ports believes that a Load / Discharge Ratio target for all shipping lines should be 0.98 (i.e. close to a balance of imports in and exports out in a given month), and will be providing empty container wharfage discounts to shipping lines that achieve a Ratio of 0.98 or higher.  On the other hand, when the Ratio dips below 0.98, the shipping line will pay a higher empty container wharfage fee.

It’s an interesting approach and one we support to encourage shipping lines to manage their empty container stocks more closely.

At ACF, as a leading freight forwarding provider in Australia, we’re committed to providing our customers with critical trade, freight and cargo updates. Keep checking in for the latest news.