Sailing into trouble… industrial action creating shipping congestion at Australian ports.

TIMBER importers have raised serious concerns about the ongoing industrial dispute at Australian ports.

The dispute between Patrick and the Maritime Union of Australia is having major impact on the ability of timber importers to supply construction and building customers, particularly in Sydney as warehouses become depleted of stock.

The Australian Timber Importers Federation has raised these concerns with the federal government and others involved in the timber products supply chain.

In a letter to the Prime Minister Scott Morrison, ATIF chair Nils Koren said timber importers had serious concerns regarding the ongoing debilitating industrial action at the country’s ports, notwithstanding the apparent temporary ‘truce’ announced.

The letter clearly outlines the major impact of the strike on timber product importers and others in the building products, construction and building supply chains.

Mr Koren said the dispute’s impact on the importation of timber products was severe, resulting in warehouses, notably in Sydney, left with negligible stock available for supply to dependent building and construction customers.

He also confirmed that the ongoing industrial action at Patrick terminals has created major disruptions to shipping.

“Resultant delays experienced over at least the past month have impacted all shipping lines vessel schedules, causing delays and congestion,” Mr Koren said.

ATIF general manager John Halkett said the federation had been active in supporting timber importers who had been badly impacted by the industrial action.

“We have made representations to Patrick, and also have had discussions with other key trade associations, and with freight forwarders,” Mr Halkett said.

“ATIF has also been in discussions with federal government officials, and has written to the federal Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews about the issue.”

Mr Halkett said the most acute problems related to Port Botany in Sydney where some shipping has been diverted to Melbourne or Brisbane requiring containers to be transported back to Sydney by road. However, evidence indicates that the difficulties experienced in Sydney are now spreading to other ports around the country.

“Among the significant adverse consequences of the industrial action is that timber product importing companies are being billed congestion fees and also having to cover the costs of road transport back into the Sydney market from other ports,” Mr Halkett said.

“These costs are obviously having significant time and commercial consequences.”

Shipping companies have advised ATIF that they have become so disenchanted with the Maritime Union of Australia ‘go slow’ that they have dumped hundreds of containers at the Melbourne port, and at Brisbane instead of the intended destination of Port Botany.

Also, some major shipping lines servicing ATIF member companies have advised that they will not be docking at Australian ports for the next two months. ATIF estimates that this will mean that hundreds of containers of timber products scheduled for import and delivery to construction and building projects across the country will now not be able to be landed.

Mr Halkett said timber product imports were critical to ongoing construction and building activity, and of course related substantial employment in sectors critical to job recovery as the country emerges from the Covid pandemic.

“A construction-led Covid recovery is being inhibited as timber product suppliers simply won’t have the products available to support construction and building projects,” he said.

“The inability to have timber products scheduled for import landed is having serious flow-on impacts for construction and building industries. This will clearly damage the good work governments are doing in providing financial support for these industries and related employment.”

Mr Halkett said unfortunately timber importers then had to incur a per container cost of $1500 to transport containers back to support fast emptying Sydney warehouses. In addition, shipping companies had been charging a congestion fee of $25,000 a day for every day a vessel is forced to remain idle while waiting to come into Port Botany.

It is understood the federal government has entered the dispute with the Prime Minister saying that wharfies were “holding the nation to ransom”, while Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said that if the commission hearings failed the government was prepared to intervene in an “alternative way”.