An Australian waterfront industry review committee has been set up to recommend ways to improve efficiency and productivity.
The move follows the recent report of a task force that found that inefficient waterfront operations and restrictive work practices hampered the country's foreign trade.The Stevedoring Industry Review Committee contains representatives of waterfront employers and waterfront and maritime unions. It is expected to make its report before the end of the year.
Brian Baillie, managing director of P & O Australia, said Australian ports are among the most inefficient and cost-ineffective in the world, with possibly the world's worst labor relations.
He said all sections of the waterfront industry had to shoulder some of the blame, including shipping groups who had in the past made concessions in working conditions in the interests of getting their ships away, thereby creating costly precedents for the industry.
He added that in the face of the current serious economic situation in Australia, there was a determination among responsible employers and employees to lift productivity on the waterfront.
But Ian Webber, chairman of the task force that investigated shore-based shipping costs, said that not all problems on Australia's troubled wharves could be attributed to unions.
He said those who got their industrial relations news from the media would have the impression that all issues could be classified into two groups: those won by the unions and those won by employers.
He said it was this confrontationist view that formed a major part of the problem of industrial relations in Australia.
The Webber task force found two distinct and virtually independent systems at work on the wa terfront, with little or no cooperation between them.
One system operated for the benefit of shipping lines and operators of container terminals and depots. The other system operated for exporters and importers and their relationship with carriers, customs agents and forwarders.
The two systems were found to have little or no influence on each other in the vital area of moving freight in and out of ports in an efficient manner.
M.R. Blair, president of the Australian Shippers Council, said the task force highlighted the fact that failings on the shore side of sea transport contributed to Australia's notoriety as an unreliable supplier to world markets.
He stated: "Success will depend on the will of industry participants and official agencies to work for an integrated system, based on the best available technology, management and information flow."