Port Australia is calling for ports and their personnel to be classified as essential services in all Australian states as the government begins to close non-essential services to contain COVID-19’s spread.
The implementation of this law would require a declaration by the governors of each state, adding port operations to the gazetted list of essential services.
Mike Gallacher, chief executive officer, Port Australia, stated the importance of equating ports in Australia to medical staff, emergency service, and supermarkets, especially since these segments require supply chain support and goods largely come in through ports. In 2019, eight million containers moved through Australian ports. About 98pc of international trade arrives and leaves via ships.
The request seeks to address that critical supply chain staff can travel to and from their job and perform their regular duties under updated health rules to minimize the possibility of contagion.
Gallacher requested Australian government agencies to expedite their reconsideration given the critical timelines, noting that shipping containers full of necessary goods are starting to flow and employees at all critical junctures are necessary to manage goods efficiently from the ports to land transportation and into retail stores.
The omission of port operations from the 1988 NSW Essential Services Act and the equivalent legislations at different states may also allow for issues to surface between unions and companies as well as different applications within states.
The declaration being sought by the companies would also give port workers priority access to surgical masks and COVID-19 testing and exemptions from home isolation orders. It would allow the companies to cancel all leave and operate beyond the limits of their enterprise agreements as well.
A directive issued by Australian Border Force on 20 March makes prohibition against all crew members of commercial vessels coming ashore until they have spent 14 days at sea since their last port of call, but the days being applied to unloading parameters are being applied differently by different states. Gallacher noted that the increased freight may raise the ultimate cost of goods needed by Australian consumers.