Sydney’s Wharf Owners Display Their Arrogance

The purveyors of Sydney’s waterfront stevedoring activities (i.e., the companies that operate the stevedoring activities at the wharves, NOT the wharfies themselves) have released their working arrangements for the Easter holiday weekend.

In a stunning display of unadulterated arrogance and abuse of power, they have decided that they will be charging storage on uncollected containers on days when the wharves are not open for business.  By way of background information, let me make a few salient points so that readers are better able to understand what I’m prattling on about.

Sydney has suffered under a duopoly of wharf stevedore companies for many years.  As a result of the complete lack of any real competition the two stevedoring companies could be said to be colluding in the way they operate and set their policies and charges.  It seems that no sooner has one of them decided on a new policy or charge, than the other follows suit.  Long gone are the days when the wharves made allowance for the Australian working week and the fact that most company’s warehouses are closed on weekends.  The attitude of the stevedores is, generally, “we work 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, so importers and exporters should change their work practices to meet our schedules.”  What this means is that the wharves now count Saturdays as part of the “normal” working week when calculating the free period of container availability before storage charges are levied.  The wharves only allow 3 free days from time of declared availability, so if Saturdays are part of the 3 free day allowance long weekends often mean it is impossible for containers to be removed from the wharf before storage charges commence.  The alternative is for the container to be collected on a weekend and thus incurring the additional costs of overtime and penalty rates from the transport company.  Either way, the importer ends up with additional costs which, of course, are passed on to the consumer.

To add insult to injury, the stevedores have decided that Good Friday is an official “non-work” day (like Sundays) and they will not deliver or receive containers on that day.  However, they will still include this day when calculating any storage charges that might be applicable, even though they weren’t there to deliver the container to the importer!  So, if you are importing a container, and the last day of free time is the Thursday before Easter then you can expect storage charges to start on Good Friday and the charges will include Good Friday, Easter Saturday and Easter Monday.

Am I wrong in thinking that charging storage on a day when they aren’t there is akin to “highway robbery”?  And there I was thinking Ned Kelly was dead…..

As if this arrogance isn’t bad enough, the wharf stevedores have taken this stance despite the fact there is currently an investigation underway (and has been for the last 2 years) into the operating and charging practices of the wharf stevedores.  This investigation, started by the Container Logistics Action Group (CLAG), has received initial favourable consideration by the Independent Pricing And Remuneration Tribunal (IPART) who have stated that they believe there is a case to be answered and are investigating further.  It seems the stevedores don’t give a stuff and think they can just do as they please when it comes to their pricing and charging policies and operating procedures.  This is hardly surprising though when one considers the amounts of money we are talking about.  In the last financial year, the amount of revenue generated from wharf storage was in the order of some AUD40 million.  This is pure revenue – there is absolutely no cost to the stevedores in generating this revenue stream (mind you, they would no doubt point to the fact that the container is taking up space on the wharf that could be used for other containers, and they have to manouevre around it, and whatever other spurious justifications they can think up – the fact of the matter is that there is quite enough space, and the container is most likely “block-stacked” somewhere at the bottom of a pile of containers anyway).

So this is nothing more than pure greed, especially when the storage rates along the lines of AUD 130.00 per day for a 20ft container are taken into consideration.  It beggars belief that they can arrive at a figure of that magnitude when it costs nothing to have the container sitting on the wharf (most likely at the back of the wharf in a stack of other containers suffering a similar fate).

The sooner these companies are brought to account and made to be more reasonable with their operating practices and charging policies, the better it will be for our economy.

4 thoughts on “Sydney’s Wharf Owners Display Their Arrogance”

  1. It’s a bit like the banks. They charge interest on your credit card account first, then any penalty payments and then if this carries you over the credit limit they slug you up to $35.00 in the infamous ‘overlimit’ fee.

    Then there is Coles and Woolworths who have over the last two years reduced the selections of items available so they can bulk-sell whatever gives them the greatest return, including their own generic brands which more often than not contain imported produce.

    Then there is Telstra and Optus, content with competing against each other for a tender to roll out an obsolete fibre broadband network which limits speeds to 24Mbit when people in other countries will be indulging in 100Mbit speeds in the next two years.

    Large companies don’t give a stuff about consumers, just the fat wallets of their major shareholders. This would no doubt include Patricks and the foreign-owned P&O.

  2. Thankfully, ShadowKnight, the CLAG/IPART investigation aims to bring these companies back to reality. My understanding is that should the IPART find that there is a case to answer, they can place orders on the stevedores in regard to the operating and charging procedures. I further understand that if that happens, these orders are irrefutable – if the stevedores ignore them, they can be closed down.