The Productivity Commission says trucking companies should not have to pay hefty fees to bring containers in and out of ports.
In its draft report released today examining the performance of Australia’s maritime logistics system, the commission said trucking companies are having to pay unfair charges because container terminal operators do not compete for trucking companies’ business.
The commission said regulations should be introduced that prevent container ports from charging road operators any fixed fees associated with delivering or collecting a container, and charged to shipping companies instead.
“Use of market power is a problem,” said Commissioner Stephen King. “Truck drivers have to pay whatever price the terminal operator demands to pick up or drop off a container. The shipping lines choose the terminals so they should pay these charges.”
All the major container operators – DP World, Hutchison Ports, Patrick and Victorian International Container Terminal – charge fixed port access fees.
Patrick ports currently charges $141.45 for every full container imported through Port Botany in Sydney, and $101.90 for every one exported.
Commissioner Julie Abramson also noted that transport operators and cargo owners have to pay fees to shipping lines when they return containers late because empty container parks, which they are directed to, are full.
“This doesn’t seem like fair conduct,” she said.
“Australian consumer law exempts these contracts and this should be remedied”.
The commission also said earlier intervention by the Fair Work Commission could help resolve protracted disputes about workplace arrangments.
“Workplace arrangements at container terminals are holding back productivity,” said Commissioner Abramson.
“Highly restrictive clauses in terminal operators’ enterprise agreements limit the ways that workers and equipment can be deployed.
“Changes to the Fair Work Act and operation of the Fair Work Commission are recommended to tackle protracted enterprise bargaining in container ports and the disruptive industrial action that comes with it.”
Transport Workers’ Union national secretary Michael Kaine said the draft report is a positive step towards ending the stevedores’ “monopoly gouging scandal”, which has gone on for years.
“Exorbitant fees have imposed major burdens on transport companies and owner-drivers already operating on razor-thin margins,” said Kaine.
“For over five years, the TWU along with companies like ACFS and transport associations have been calling for wealthy heads in maritime supply chains to pay their fair share rather than pushing transport operators to the brink.
“The proposition of ‘flexible fees’ to create ‘efficient incentives’ undermines safety in Australia’s deadliest industry and should be abandoned. When profits are squeezed, operators and drivers are pressured to delay maintenance, speed, skip rest breaks and drive fatigued. Imposing fees to make transport operators work faster will only result in more deaths on our roads.”
The draft report, Lifting productivity at Australia’s container ports: between water, wharf and warehouse, is being released for comments and further submissions from interested stakeholders until October 14. The report can be found here.