On Saturday Hutchison Ports Australia (HPA) denied claims they were slashing their workforce to bring in more automation, saying the cutbacks were due to financial losses.
Chief Financial Officer Chee Keong Chan issued a media statement saying the decision was a difficult one, but followed the company announcement it was downsizing its service offering to the market.
“HPA is currently incurring substantial financial losses,” Chan said. “It has been unable to secure a market share with leading shipping lines. It has no capital expenditure plans for new automation at the Sydney or Brisbane terminals.”
Meanwhile the Fair Work Commission was due to sit again in Sydney later today, 10 August, after sacked workers refused to follow an interim order on Friday that “industrial action must stop, not occur and not be organised”.
Workers continued to picket both Sydney and Melbourne terminals with one ship Capitaine Tasman reportedly failing to load at Port Botany this morning. A second ship was scheduled to load at Brisbane but failed to arrive after workers blocked the road to Berth 11.
Hutchison refused to consult with the union over the redundancies, notifying workers by text and email on Thursday in the middle of the night that they no longer had a job – a move that has been widely criticised.
HPA has been struggling after failing to lock in a third terminal in Melbourne and problems with height restrictions under the third runway in Sydney.
Maritime Union of Australia Brisbane Branch Secretary Bob Carnegie however told IHS Maritime the union had ‘inside information’ that HPA was planning a joint endeavor with Manila-based global stevedore International Container Terminal Services (ICTS) to cover all three ports with a non-union agreement, to undercut their rivals DP World and Patrick.
One highly placed industry source confirmed to IHS Maritime that discussions around a strategic partnership between HPA and ICTS had taken place.
“A strategic partnership would be the logical thing to do,” he said. “It would have good prospects for a national approach to contracts on the East Coast. I have heard there was something going in terms of a commercial relationship. But I’ve heard nothing about a non union operation.”
ICTS and HPA have been contacted for comment.
ICTS, Webb Dock, (Victoria International Container Terminal Limited) Melbourne, is scheduled to open in December, 2016.