Some shipping companies are reporting near two-week delays in delivering vital goods amid overtime bans and other action, and have imposed a new strike payment to shift the cost onto importers and exporters.
The maritime union has dismissed claims of extended delays.
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack said on Sept 12 the government understood how frustrated Australian shippers and transport operators were with increases in stevedore fees and charges but actions disrupting operations further were not the solution.
“During this pandemic, the entire nation has seen just how much we rely on our freight industry to keep shelves stocked and our economy running and how tirelessly all operators, including shippers, have been working to make this happen,” he said.
“Australia relies on shipping with 99 percent of our trade moved by sea, so it is absolutely vital we see a quick resolution achieved between all parties.”
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the COVID-19 pandemic was already placing immense strain on global supply chains and further disruptions were the last thing exporters needed.
“Our exporters are already having to grapple with significant pressures as a result of the pandemic and now is the worst possible time for such actions that only compound these pressures,” he said.
“It’s hard enough for our farmers and businesses right now and the last thing they need is further uncertainty and delays in getting their product out of Australia.”
Attorney-General Christian Porter said the government encouraged all parties to follow workplace laws and make agreements that contributed to higher productivity.
“The government expects all parties to comply with Australian workplace laws, to bargain in good faith and make agreements that contribute to higher productivity,” he said.
But Maritime Union of Australia national secretary Paddy Crumlin said reports of major delays were “absurd”.
“Their latest hysterics attempt to create fear in the general public in a destructive effort to exploit COVID anxiety already in the community for their blatant self-interest,” he said.
“There is no evidence that the limited, completely legal forms of industrial actions are causing the ridiculous delays claimed.”
The union action has come in response to a move by the Patrick stevedore company to cut a variety of conditions from an industrial agreement covering waterfront workers.