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The Maritime Union of Australia (MUA) has halted industrial action against Patrick Terminals – but the impact from the strikes has already contributed to long landside delays in Melbourne.

The MUA announced the latest in its series of work stoppages at Patrick’s four container terminals in late September, including rolling action at the stevedore’s East Swanson facility in Melbourne through October.

Patrick then applied to the Fair Work Commission (FWC) to terminate its enterprise agreement with the MUA, claiming “enough is enough” after 19 months of deadlocked negotiations.

And on Monday, the terminal operator called on the FWC to terminate MUA’s rolling industrial action.

Patrick CEO Michael Jovicic said: “Since May, our terminals have faced an unrelenting barrage of ongoing industrial action that has impacted all terminal users including importers, exporters and shipping lines.

“Delays are escalating and we have continually pleaded with the MUA to negotiate without the need for damaging industrial action. The past two years have been particularly challenging for all parties across the supply chain and the industrial action is impacting Australia’s Covid economic recovery.”

A conciliation session with the FWC today resulted in the MUA withdrawing any further planned action.

However, Neil Chambers, director of the Container Transport Alliance Australia (CTAA), said the “wheels have come off” container logistics productivity at the port of Melbourne with problems at other terminals too.

He explained: “Since storms lashed Melbourne two weeks ago and due to high volumes and other operational problems, the truck turnaround times at DP World West Swanson have blown out to over four hours. Transport operators have been left unable to collect all available import containers, and exports have been disrupted, leading to more congestion.”

And, Mr Chambers said, the current congestion and poor terminal productivity were also impacted because DP World accepted a subcontracted vessel from the “strike-ridden Patrick Terminal at East Swanson Dock”.

He said the MUA action had resulted in “significant reduction in available vehicle booking slots, of up to 75%, for the collection and drop off of import and export containers”.

He added: “Transport operators simply can’t get sufficient slots and are asking Patrick to extend free time before import storage charges accrue. Unbelievably however, Patrick’s management has blamed the situation on the MUA, saying the situation was ‘outside of our control’. Therefore, Patrick is refusing to waive import storage charges.”

Meanwhile, as well as the delays in Australia, shippers and forwarders continue to grapple with global port congestion and high rates. For example, according to Greg Mckillop, owner of Southern Cross Cargo, rates from China have dropped in some cases, but “without space they are irrelevant – bookings ex-China can still take two-or-three weeks”.

He added: “We would be pleasantly surprised to see some general rate reductions, but it’s hard to see this in advance of Chinese New Year in February. The US congestion is also causing significant ocean freight delays and, concerningly, it is not showing signs of improving.”

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