Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) is facing imminent disruption from industrial action.
This is in the face of a union agenda to force Australia’s first fully automated container terminal to comply with “industry standards” by adopting the incompatible hours, manning and overtime conditions that govern the manually operated terminals around Australia.
Adoption of such conditions would see the terminal saddled with inappropriate working arrangements, its efficiencies seriously compromised, and its potential to achieve profitability put at risk, VICT warns.
The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has given notice of a four-hour stoppage in the terminal commencing Tuesday 16th February from 16:00 to 20:00.
Considering VICT’s market share is 34% of containers destined for the Port of Melbourne, shipping lines will face delays in bringing supplies to Melbourne.
The MUA is demanding wage increases equivalent to between 5.8% to 11% each year over 3 years for certain roles, with overtime and penalty rates to rise by 50% to 100% from current rates. The MUA is also seeking a paid week off every 10 weeks, plus reduced shifts in the 9th week, effectively reducing time worked by 11.4%.
The MUA roster would require an additional panel of employees to make the operation viable, requiring a 25% increase in labour numbers, 11.4% fewer hours for everyone, plus a wage increase of up to 20%.
If fully accepted, the MUA claims will cause the total cost of employment at VICT to rise by 117% or more than $119.1 million over the four years, making this ground breaking project unviable.
The MUA is attempting to impose on VICT the Union’s “industry standards” based on the waterfront 7-hr manual labour roster. This is despite VICT workers supporting VICT’s current model of 12-hour shifts, 4 days on and 4 days off equal time rosters which offer full-time jobs working only 15 days a month. The existing roster maximises the operability and efficiency of VICT’s automated terminal whilst maintaining healthy work life balance for the employees.
Fully automated, VICT is the only Port of Melbourne stevedore that operates outside the West Gate Bridge, enabling it to berth the larger ships now serving the Port of Melbourne.
Impact on the economy
Industrial action impacting VICT will therefore significantly impact the Port and the Victorian economy.
The Port of Melbourne handles about three million “TEU” (that’s a twenty foot ocean shipping container) every year. About 1.38 million TEU are fully loaded containers imported into the Port of Melbourne and they typically supply the city with retail, mall and supermarket goods, among other things, that Melburnians need to buy.
About 87% of fully loaded import TEU are sent to destinations inside the city. The Port of Melbourne also handles just over 911,000 TEUs of fully loaded exports a year. About half of the fully loaded export TEUs originate from within the city and other half from the countryside and towns nearby but outside of the city.
The Port of Melbourne contributes about 19,600 jobs and $6 billion of economic benefit to the Victorian economy.
VICT: unions are attempting to steer waterfront into the past
Commenting on the proposed union action, CEO of VICT Tim Vancampen said: “The maritime unions are attempting to steer the waterfront firmly back to the past, effectively by ignoring the efficiencies of automation and hobbling VICT with outdated ways of working and inapplicable wages and benefits.
“As the first fully automated terminal in Australia we never expected to be popular with traditional waterside unions, but we couldn’t have anticipated such unrealistic demands. We’ve been in negotiations for months, however the MUA is unwilling to consider reasonable differences in VICT’s operation.”
“VICT operates Australia’s first and only fully automated terminal. Our employees are not traditional waterside labourers, they’re typically computer operators and maintenance engineers. Most operating roles and
standards that are now unique to the industry are completely foreign to the MUA’s experience and understanding.”
On the table
Over the course of months of negotiations, VICT has offered a wage increase of 2.5% for the first two years and 3% for the third and fourth years respectively.
Casual employees have been offered a 20% wage increase for the first year with increases of 2.5% for the second year and 3% for the third and fourth years. VICT will also be creating 18 new permanent jobs each paying over $100,000 per year.
Shipping Australia calls for waterfront reform
Commenting on the latest development, Shipping Australia CEO Melwyn Noronha noted: “Everyday Australians rely on maritime trade no matter how far they live from the sea or from a port. The import / export trade accounts for about 46% to 47% of Australia’s economy. Seaborne imports and exports are part of, and drive, the logistics industry. That industry supports about 1.2 million jobs, which accounts for about 10% of the total Australian workforce.
“However, we continue to have severe industrial relations-induced disruption on the waterfront. Industrial relations need to be looked at as a matter of urgency by the Federal Government or disruptions will continue to persist to the detriment of all Australians, no matter who they are or where they live.
“Shipping Australia calls upon the Federal Government to include a review of waterfront industrial relations as part of any reform package”.