Australian Competition & Consumer Commission chairman Rod Sims has taken aim at the nation’s stevedores for levying significantly increased charges on transport companies, warning the waterfront employers could face a backlash from the states over excessive price hikes.
In an interview to mark the 20th anniversary of the 1998 waterfront dispute, Mr Sims said the dispute’s settlement had lifted waterfront productivity, increased hourly crane rates and reduced charges to port users, resulting in benefits to consumers.
But he said the ACCC, which took a waterfront monitoring role in the wake of the dispute, was concerned about recent price hikes the stevedoring companies had imposed on land transport operators. Infrastructure fees had “gone up a lot and they seem to have gone up a lot more than costs have gone up”, Mr Sims said. “We are just not sure, apart from increasing profits, what the rationale for those charges is,” he said. “So that is something we are going to be focusing on a lot more.’’
The stevedores impose a charge per full container dropped off at a terminal or picked up. Figures released by the ACCC show DP World and Patrick have significantly hiked charges at their Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane terminals.
VICT in Melbourne has introduced a new rate of $52.80 per container in Melbourne, similar to rates charged by Patrick and DP World. Mr Sims said the stevedores had been putting up the charges over the past year “and they have gone up a lot quickly’’. “In some senses, they have gone from zero to something, so the percentages are huge,’’ he said.
“‘They are justifying them on the basis of costs and the need to invest. At this stage, we cannot see the costs increases that have led to those higher charges and we can’t see that investment patterns have changed as a result of those charges.”
Mr Sims said the ACCC’s primary role on the waterfront was monitoring and reporting. “At the end of the day, state governments who regulate these ports can do something about it so I think our monitoring does have power,’’ he said.
“The fact that we are continuing to focus on this has already been noticed by the stevedores.
“We are already talking to state governments. We don’t have any control. We can’t stop people pricing excessively. There’s no law that we do that controls that … but state governments can and state governments are watching. “This is a new emerging issue which everybody is watching carefully. There is ultimately a stick at the end of the road if people decide to use it, but it’s too early for that yet. They (state governments) can at the end of the day regulate some of this stuff.
“It’s not something you want to do … but if the stevedores push it too far, they may get a backlash they don’t like.”
Reflecting on the 1998 dispute, Mr Sims said the settlement unquestionably resulted in the improved operation of the waterfront. He said there had been a large degree of union control over work practices and manning. “Intrusion into what management would normally be responsible for does seem strange now,’’ he said. “There’s no question it improved things. We have capital productivity up by 57 per cent and labour productivity up by 128 per cent since those times.”
He said there was capacity for hourly crane rates to increase, pointing to higher numbers in countries including New Zealand. He said the ACCC believed the higher numbers in New Zealand were due to its ports being much closer to each other, generating competition between rival ports.
Written by Ewin Hannan – Workplace Editor, The Australian, 9th April 2018
Source credit: CBFCA (Customs Brokers and Forwarders Council of Australia)