|Ports of Auckland|
|Letter to Members|
|Dear CBAFF members,|
Yesterday myself, Hamish Milne and Trevor Duxfield attended a meeting at the Ports of Auckland (POA) on behalf of CBAFF.
Present from the POA was Craig Sain (General Manager Commercial Relationships) and Matt Ball (General Manager Communications).
In this meeting we put to Craig and Matt our members’ (and their clients’) concerns at the significant effect the port congestion was having on the supply chain inbound and outbound.
In what, at times were frank but constructive discussions, I believe we can summarise the present situation at POA as follows: The problem is not automation per se as this is only happening quayside and is in fact working to POA expectations. Hamish & I saw this operating physically and it did seem to be flowing well, albeit with reduced volumes. Even if the port had finished its automation program it would not have avoided issue number 2. There is very much an acute labour shortage and mainly in the key areas of crane and straddle operators and “on vessel” positions such as lashers. These are manual positions requiring human beings. Now, whether this current labour shortage is specifically COVID-19 related is a matter of debate and perhaps some future enquiry but the fact remains is they are approximately 50 positions short and our feeling is that the energy is better spent on finding a solution rather than apportioning blame at this moment. The Port has been trying to recruit labour locally but with limited success. It may also interest you to learn that the current contract at the port allows for up to a 60 hour working week We suspect that this may be part of the issue and even with redundancies in other areas of the economy, the point was made that you could earn a similar income in construction right now without the ‘anti-social’ working hours. Recognising that, the Port has reduced this maximum to 56 hours and is currently working on further measures to address this, but is mindful that any reduction in hours required will exacerbate the current situation. This has meant only a limited number of container cranes have enough crew at the port to operate on a 24/7 operational basis and therefore the optimal number of vessels cannot be worked at the same time. This, we believe, is the nub of the congestion issue. Even once recruited, training of labour will be required and depending on the position that would be weeks or months, so the fix is not a quick one. The Port is estimating Feb/Mar 21 at the earliest and we suspect that might be optimistic. Conclusions/solution:
The Port accepts it could have done some things better.
Ultimately it is not healthy for Auckland’s or New Zealand’s economy to have a dysfunctional port and the POA itself very much wishes to be seen as an asset to the city/country, not a liability.
It would be fair to say that if these vacant positions – especially the Port crane and straddle operators – were filled with trained personnel immediately the situation would be solved and seemingly in a short time period.
We believe the solution could be to allow the POA to recruit foreign seasonal operators now who could work through the backlog while a local labour force could be found and trained to provide the necessary cover in the future. This is an option the Port has investigated, and the response to such enquiries has gathered some interest but due to COVID outbreaks at other overseas ports, they too are suffering congestion and COVID related fears which means there is no capacity currently to bring in other skilled operators.
There may however be an opportunity to recruit skilled former port workers who are currently in other industries or not working.
Given the significant cost to the economy it is our view that the New Zealand Government should be assisting in this recruitment, much like the Australian Government is currently trying to do in its primary sector. This is an urgent matter.
The port may also need a window in the future to work on further automation. We encourage them to work with our sector to gain feedback on the best times to do that.