Positive Ports inquiry should be short and sharp

“The Productivity Commission inquiry into our ports is a positive development and we look forward to the release of its terms of reference and contributing to this important inquiry,” Innes Willox, Chief Executive of the national employer association Ai Group today.

“The PC inquiry should be a short sharp one as the issues are serious and impacts are obvious and go to the productivity on our wharves, the reliability of our supply chains and the high prices faced by businesses and households.

“The situation on our ports acts like a huge handbrake on our economy at a time when we need to be focusing on our recovery and making strong efforts to lift real incomes growth and competitiveness.

“The recent ACCC Container Stevedore Monitoring report has highlighted the need for urgent reform. Amongst the barriers to productivity identified in the ACCC report are the extremely restrictive provisions in the enterprise agreements that apply to Stevedoring companies. To address the issue:

  • The exemptions in sections 45E and 45EA of the Competition and Consumer Act need to be tightened up. The provisions exempt the provisions of industrial agreements from the operation of certain competition laws.
  • Consideration should be given to a Code that addresses enterprise agreement content in the Maritime and Ports Industry. This approach works very well in the building industry.

“Hopefully, the PC inquiry and recommendations will lead to Parliament implementing the necessary legislative and other reforms next year. During the recovery from the pandemic, businesses are facing many challenges and they should not need to continue to face major inefficiencies and disruptions at Australian ports.

“The ACCC’s recent container monitoring report stated that:

‘Over the past decade, Australian stevedores have invested billions of dollars in infrastructure and more efficient equipment at Australian container terminals. However, recent studies have shown that Australian container ports are relatively inefficient and well below international standards.’

“The ACCC’s report also highlights the major problems which flow from the extremely restrictive provisions in the Stevedores’ enterprise agreements. World class equipment is wonderful but the benefits to port users and the broader community are substantially reduced if the equipment cannot be operated in a modern and efficient way. The highly restrictive current work practices are a throw-back to a bygone era. They reflect the excessive power of the MUA and its frequent resort to industrial action. Just this week the MUA was ordered to pay more than $2 million for organising unlawful industrial action on the waterfront in 2017. The community can no longer be held to ransom by the MUA’s actions, particularly during the recovery from the pandemic.

“Ai Group has been working with over thirty different industry associations on an agreed set of Terms of Reference for such an inquiry. The scale and breadth of this engagement demonstrates the widespread impact of our inefficient maritime logistics industry, and the urgency that is required,” Mr Willox said.

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