MUA National Secretary Paddy Crumlin said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission's latest push for a third operator to lift port productivity must be part of a national transport ports and freight strategy which includes shipping - and not at the expense of worker safety.
Mr Crumlin said the union position is to support capacity expansion as a better alternative to a third operator, though the union will of course work constructively to ensure any new stevedoring operators apply prevailing labour standards. The union also supports investment of workers capital (workers superannuation savings) in port expansion and infrastructure.
The union noted the ACCC acknowledgement in its Container stevedoring: monitoring report no. 12 that labour costs as a proportion of stevedoring costs have declined since 2005-06 and that labour costs per container remain static, while property costs have risen, suggesting that State Government charges may be an area for efficiency improvement, rather than putting pressure on labour costs through competition by encouraging new entrants.
Mr Crumlin said that by focussing on competition without taking account of the optimum throughput and scale may well undermine the capacity of stevedores to invest in better equipment, better logistic technologies, in improving workforce skills and adoption of improved safety strategies, all of which are more likely to deliver improved productivity.
He noted that the crane rate, which measures capital productivity, has been fairly static for almost a decade, suggesting that port planning in Australia is not conducive to capital investment. He reiterated his concern that the National Ports Strategy had not given sufficient Commonwealth direction on this issue, and that is why he considered it a lost opportunity.
On the other hand, Mr Crumlin noted that the elapsed labour rate, which measures labour productivity had continued to improve, with some short term fluctuations over he same decade.
“But productivity must not come at the expense of workers lives,” said Mr Crumlin. “We’ve had three deaths this year on the Australian waterfront. Lives come before profits.”
The MUA has said for quite some time, there is still room for improvement when it comes to investment in infrastructure on our ports.
Mr Crumlin again emphasised the need for the revitalisation of Australian shipping to feature more prominently in Australia’s National Ports Strategy, and criticised Infrastructure Australia and the National Transport Commission, for developing a National Ports Strategy with insufficient linkage to Government objectives for the reinvigoration of shipping to provide better competition in the domestic freight market and to relieve road congestion.
He also said it was significant to compare the ACCC’s latest report with the Productivity Commission report that came out after the 1998 waterfront dispute.
“That first report showed that most of the productivity rise back then was due to company investment in new gear and infrastructure, and not due to the much disputed workers who were secretly trained in Dubai to take over the work on the docks from the union members,” he said.
Mr Crumlin said the union has continued to maintain a high level dialogue with the industry, Ports Australia, regulators and with Government on developments in Australian ports.
“The union’s position remains that we support capacity expansion as a better alternative to respond to the need to cater for growth, rather than competitive intensity, which can be damaging to productivity and investment, as proposed by the ACCC ,” he said.