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Prime Mover Magazine


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Peter Anderson

Consumers worse off from irresponsible industrial action

March 2018

Supply chains throughout Victoria and Australia were thrown into disarray during the busiest time of the year for the freight and logistics industry, courtesy of an illegal picket that shut down Victoria International Container Terminal (VICT) at Webb Dock prior to Christmas.

The picket – inspired by the Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) and the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CMFEU) as a protest against VICT’s rightful standing down of an employee ineligible to work on the waterfront – underscored just how vulnerable supply chains are to industrial action, and that ultimately consumers and businesses bear the brunt of action that should be resolved by the industrial relations system.

What made this a particularly distasteful form of industrial action was that it was in complete defiance of the Victorian Supreme Court, which had issued orders preventing the MUA and CFMEU approaching with 100m of VICT, and further required them to not restrict access to trucks entering the terminal to deliver and collect containers.
This is the kind of arrogance unions were renowned for last century, so it is disturbing it has reared its ugly head during this latest dispute. It’s also the kind of attitude that has the potential to set the trade union movement back 25 years, and with it, reforms that have made our ports more productive and, by extension, the broader state and national economy as well.

The impact of the action was felt right throughout the supply chain at a time when consumers had every right to expect retail stores to be fully stocked, and businesses should not have been held to ransom by the trade union movement.
Ships were rerouted to other terminals and cities, consumer goods, medicine, vegetables and fruit were stranded and left to rot on the docks, and of course the heavy vehicle industry was unable to fulfil its contribution to the supply chain by getting goods to market.

VICT is rightly seeking damages against the unions, having filed a statement of claim in the Supreme Court for over $8 million in losses from the illegal picket.
The claim covers losses of earnings, transport, supplier and shipping costs and reputational damages.

Less easy to quantify is the reputational damage sustained to the state of Victoria, with the disruptive action making international headlines and giving shipping companies and other foreign and domestic freight forwarders cause to rethink the Port of Melbourne as a channel for importing and exporting goods.

The consequences of this cannot be emphasised enough because without a reliable and productive port, the Victorian economy faces dire consequences. If you had a choice between a port that was susceptible to closure at the whim of a union and one that wasn’t, you’d choose the latter one every time. Having your goods held up and frustrating retailers and their customers isn’t worth the risk.

So work remains to restore the Port of Melbourne’s hard-fought reputation as a reliable and productive part of the supply chain. The (VTA) will be doing its bit to promote the many competitive advantages Melbourne has over other cities for freight forwarders, in the interests of supporting our stevedores and the heavy vehicle operators who service it.
We will also continue to advocate for industrial disputes, irrespective of their form, to be resolved by the Fair Work Commission, which is the rightful forum for workplace issues to be heard.

In a modern Australia where systems are in place to resolve disputes, there is no place for the kind of illegal activity that disrupted the activities of a legitimate business and its workers, let alone thousands of other workers in the supply chain unable to work and contribute to the economy.

If you haven’t registered for the VTA’s annual State Conference at Lorne, 18–20 March, there is still time to book. The conference features a great line-up of speakers who, for two-days, will engage in important discussions about our industry.

The conference theme is Profit or Perish: Achieving Sustained Success in Transport, and presenters and panellists will assemble to discuss key productivity drivers of infrastructure, customers, equipment, technology and safety.

Please join us at Mantra Lorne for what should be another great conference. For further information and to register, visit www.vta.com.au.

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