Pressure is mounting on the federal government to intervene in an industrial dispute that has left a backlog of nearly 55,000 containers at Australian ports.
- Chilled meat and food exports are among products held up at Australian ports
- Car parts and furniture are also delayed, leading to fears of increased costs
- The meat industry wants government intervention to protect the supply chain
The Maritime Workers Union (MWU) wants a pay rise but negotiations with Dubai-based ports operator DP World have so far failed.
The stevedoring company told a Senate Estimates hearing the economic cost of the stop-work action was “$84 million” a week.
Head of corporate affairs Blake Tierney said there was a backlog of 54,330 containers that was holding up imports and would add to the cost of goods for Australians.
“In terms of imports, we have motor vehicles, clothes, appliances, furniture and bedding, also polymers [used in the production of plastics, fibreglass and teflon cookware],” he said.
The company said exports of meat, dairy, eggs, wool, grains and aluminium were also stuck at terminals across the country.
Meat industry seeks urgent resolution
The Australian Meat Industry Council said meat products were among those getting stuck on the docks and wanted federal government intervention.
Chief executive Patrick Hutchinson said chilled meat, which made up about a third of Australia’s meat exports, was running out of shelf life because of the delays and had to be brought back onto the domestic market.
“We’re seeing an increase in disruptions and logistics costs like demurrage, and people are starting to ask questions about the reliability of our exports,” he said.
He was also concerned about the way the government had framed the dispute, describing it as a personal attack on DP World.
“It has become a union versus the company issue and the agriculture and food industry has been forgotten,” Mr Hutchinson said.
Simon Stahl is the chief executive at The Casino Food Co-op, Australia’s largest meat co-operative, and wants the dispute resolved.
He said the conflict in the Middle East was negatively impacting exports to Europe and the sector already had enough challenges on its plate.
“Some of our hide sales have had to be diverted down around Africa and that’s adding costs to each of the vessels in the thousands of dollars,” Mr Stahl said.
He said the industry needed the ports to remain open.
“We’re going to have plenty of cattle over the coming months, so this is the whole supply chain. It’s really urgent they come to an agreement,” Mr Stahl said.
Unions dispute DP World figures
Both DP World and the MWU were in a media blackout on Tuesday, but the union’s national secretary Adrian Evans responded to an ABC query about the figures DP World gave to Senate Estimates.
He said the $84-million cost of the dispute was not accurate and claimed that was why the company had refused to release the report explaining the figure.
He also said any backlog of containers could be cleared easily and cited a cyber attack in November that created a backlog of 30,000 containers that was cleared in seven days.
“Their stats are outright lies,” Mr Evans said.
He said the MWU was seeking a two-year agreement for an 8-per cent increase per year, which would bring it in line with salaries paid at rival stevedores Patrick Terminals.
Minister criticises DP World
Federal Industrial Relations Minister Tony Burke has criticised DP World, which handles 40 per cent of Australia’s container traffic, saying it shifts its profits overseas at the expense of workers and Australian consumers.
The company is owned by the Dubai government, owns and operates ports in 40 countries, and is under the direct control of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Dubai’s ruler.
It owns ports and businesses in the United States and the United Kingdom, where there has been concerns about foreign ownership of key transport infrastructure and the way the company handled some industrial relations issues.