Nationwide labour unrest in Australian ports cause delays and congestions
An ongoing dispute over pay rises and working conditions between the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and major port operators, such as DP World, Patricks and Hutchinson, has led to significant delays and congestions across ports nationwide.
The industrial actions, which began in July, have only been recently halted in several terminals across the country.
At Port Botany in Sydney, port workers agreed to end the strike last 19 September after DP World had reached a preliminary deal with the MUA.
On 1 October, the MUA also decided to halt industrial action until a conciliation hearing at the Fair Work Commission at the end of the month.
While these developments may cause waiting time for vessels at Australian ports to gradually decrease as operations resume, there may be further work stoppages in the coming weeks. It is still unclear when the backlogs can be fully cleared.
The nationwide strikes across Australian ports have been happening since July.
On 15 July, the MUA informed DP World that it will resume actions at its sites in Brisbane, Melbourne, Sydney and Fremantle. The duration and dates of the work stoppages varied from terminal to terminal, but mostly included overtime bans.
At the beginning of September, port workers with Patrick Terminals also began a nationwide port strike which included banning shift extensions and overtime.
While MUA and DP World have recently reached an in-principle agreement, none have been made so far between the maritime union and Patrick Terminals. However, the union agreed to suspend industrial actions until the Fair Work hearing in 26 October.
The nationwide strike has gradually led to considerable delays, which have risen to 12 hours per strike day. Delays are now expected to peak in mid-October.
At the end of August at Port Botany in Sydney, average waiting times for incoming vessels began to significantly increase, with delays at all terminals averaging 4.5 days. The delays would continuously worsen in the following weeks due to a new series of industrial actions.
Currently at Patrick Terminals in Sydney, waiting times for vessels average on 21.5 days, prompting shipping lines to divert ships to other ports in Melbourne, Brisbane, and Fremantle to avoid additional costs that can amount to USD 25,000 per day.
This has also resulted to congestion at these ports, particularly at Patrick Terminals, due to an increased number of incoming ships.
Although congestion levels and vessel delays are expected to gradually decrease soon, following the MUA-DP World agreement, there is still high potential for further industrial actions at Patrick Terminals should no agreement be sealed on 26 October.
Customers are advised to keep abreast of the latest developments for their ports of interest and explore options to use air freight capacity for critical shipments or unloading cargo at less congested ports such as Fremantle.
Supply chain managers are also advised to monitor additional announcements by shipping companies regarding congestion charges as well as port call omissions and activate contingency plans where necessary.