Christmas at risk from port congestion

Road and rail transport operators have warned the Sydney Ports Corporation that many will go out of business and Christmas goods destined for Sydney stores will not get delivered in time, unless immediate productivity increases are made by the two stevedores.

The Sydney Port Corporation held an information session yesterday to update industry on the proposed landside productivity improvements. While the presentations gave a high-level overview of planned action to improve access and productivity in the medium to long term, there was no immediate relief for long-suffering transport operators.

Horror stories told by representatives of container cartage operators told of trucks taking up to five hours to pick up import containers, with the stevedores lacking information and relying on truck drivers to give them the missing details.

Others told of instances where the stevedores closed their gates at 2 pm sharp on Saturdays, notwithstanding trucks with valid slots still waiting outside. “We had booked the slots on the VBS as required,” one operator told T&Lnews. “their equipment breaks down or they have a staff shortage and are slow to load the containers, but they make us bear the cost of it – they go home and to hell with the trucks still waiting!”

Many operators expressed the concern that the reduced productivity is causing them to lose money and be forced out of business, and that containers arriving during the current Christmas rush will not be delivered to stores in time.

Some rail operators are equally affected. A company spokesperson who did not wish to be named, said his trains take, on average, 10 hours for the return trip from suburban Sydney to Botany. “The best we ever had was eight hours, but often it takes a whole day,” he said. “We have to change crews on the track because they run out of working hours.

“It takes 15 minutes to shunt in and another 15 to shunt out of the stevedores’ sidings. We only have a one-hour window, but they take the shunting time off that. They go to lunch early, and return late, but they take that off, too, from our time. When the time’s up, we have to leave – every single day we are forced to leave containers behind.”

He said the stevedores’ productivity is less than half of what they achieve every day in their own yard.

The Sydney Ports Corporation representative attempted to reassure operators that new KPIs and penalties will be incorporated into the stevedores’ leases, however, this will not have an effect for many months. The peak period surcharge mooted by ports minister Joe Tripodi will not be in place until at least the end of the current financial year.

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