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If ever there has been a time for urgent port reform, it is now, with damaging disputes highlighting the failure of current arrangements, GrainGrowers said today.

GrainGrowers said the current DP World dispute is an opportunity for long-term change to deliver reform and protect Australia’s productivity and competitiveness.

The current situation highlights existing port industrial relations mechanisms are not working.

While it is positive news that the MUA has called off weekend work bans on Friday night, the recurrent nature of these damaging disputes highlights the need for intervention.

GrainGrowers CEO Shona Gawel said the 2023 Svitzer dispute and the evolving DP World situation demonstrate the risk that industrial disputes could bring Australian ports to a standstill.

“Australia’s export industries and the wider Australian community bear the brunt of this inefficiency through a further escalation of costs. As an island nation, we can’t afford to push the port system to the breaking point every time an industrial issue needs to be resolved.”

Ms Gawel said the Productivity Commission found that since 2018, the average duration of enterprise agreement negotiations has blown out to almost 18 months.

“The Commission has previously put forward draft recommendations for reform of the Fair Work Act 2009 to improve the productivity of the ports, and we need to consider these in the view of long-term reform.”

“Of course, we fully support employees and employers’ rights to take industrial action to settle workplace disputes, but a framework is required to recognise the unique industrial and economic context of Australia’s ports and avoid damage to unrelated third parties like Australian grain growers.”

“The grains industry is currently in the middle of the critical export period, and high costs and delays at port not only threaten global competitiveness but also damage Australia’s reputation with international customers.”

“International trade plays a significant role in Australia’s economy, and the wider impact of these disputes for port users and everyday business cannot continue to be discounted.” Ms Gawel said.