MUA National Secretary Calls ACCC Report “Out of Touch and Distorted”

Maritime Union of Australia National Secretary Paddy Crumlin today said the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission report on port productivity missed the real story.

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“In significant parts of its reports, the ACCC clearly doesn’t understand, or doesn't want to understand what is underway in the ports thanks in large part to our negotiations and work with the companies,” said Mr. Crumlin. “Our bargaining agreements have outlined extensive productivity trade offs, as part of a component that emphasized super catch up to the new to the new national standards of 12%. In an industry hard on the people that work there physically it's reasonable they retire in a financially sustainable way.”

Mr. Crumlin noted that media reports have selectively taken from the ACCC report and missed the larger picture.

"Bad news makes news but bad reporting is lazy. The reality is that the long term trends are very positive,” Mr. Crumlin noted. “Unit costs have decreased by 45% since 1998. Labour productivity measured by the ‘elapsed labour rate’ has doubled since 1998, from 20.7 to 43.6 containers per hour. The bottom line is that the stevedores are more cost-efficient and profitable than they were 14 years ago. This hasn't happened by voodoo, it's been part of the bargaining process, including productivity wage landings. ”

Mr. Crumlin added that, “if anything is a productivity problem, it’s middle management in some companies. We have a culture of poor safety supervision and lack of middle management training, which the MUA has been advocating for along time must be addressed. High mortality and injury rates are one of the ominous dimensions of this failure, a fact compounded by companies and, the worst end of foreign shipowning, seemingly being in denial, given they are not moving from their entrenched opposition to a proper National Safety Code. It's counter intuitive really, if you want productivity, you don’t want to grind to a screeching halt, because of a bad accident, or worse still, a death."

Indeed, Mr. Crumlin added, the union’s work on productivity is continuing. “The union is currently negotiating with all of Australia’s major stevedores on their capital investment and sustainable but agreed future automation plans, aiming to assist those companies to improve overall productivity performance through new workforce strategies, workforce development and better safety management,” Mr. Crumlin said.

 As for the industrial disputation referred to by the ACCC, the MUA complied with every aspect of the Fair Work Act. “This was all conducted within theprovisions of the Fair Work Act,” Mr. Crumlin said. “And it resulted in a three-year agreement that does not come up for negotiation again until 2015, thereby ruling out protected action for the next three years. That EBA contained explicit productivity offsets that link employee remuneration to improved productivity performance . If the ACCC was doing its job properly, it would have noted some of the so-called ‘industrial action’ was taken by the employers through lock outs.”

"The report actually talks at some length about the remarkable continuing increase in stevedoring rates of productivity andpredicted long term cost reductions in charges,” Mr. Crumlin said. “But, again, good news is to be avoided at all costs by some elements of the media industry in Australia when it comes to the waterfront. We call that low productivity and a waste of resources in my game. Maybe the ACCC should have a closer look at them as well."