Business Hurt by Aussie Dock Strike
Business Hurt by Aussie Dock Strike
PETER JAMES SPIELMANN
Apr. 19, 1998
SYDNEY, Australia (AP) _ With thousands of shipping containers full of U.S. $130 million in goods piling up on the docks, Australian industries are feeling the pinch of a waterfront strike which threatens thousands of jobs.
The auto, wool, cotton, wine, beef and fish-farming industries all hope for a swift resolution to the crisis, but both the dockworker's union and company management appear determined to pursue a bitter war of attrition.
The boss of Patrick stevedoring, the company that triggered the dispute by locking out all 1,400 of its unionized workers, said Sunday that the trouble could last for months.
``We seem to have set in for quite a lengthy dispute unfortunately, but we'll be hoping that it resolves itself as quickly as possible,'' Patrick stevedoring's Chris Corrigan said in a televised broadcast.
Jeff Kennett, premier of Australia's Victorian state, has warned that ``hundreds of thousands'' of jobs could be lost in his state alone if the lockout drags on.
The Cattle Council said Sunday at least 1,500 meat workers have been laid off in Victoria and New South Wales as slaughterhouses are unable to get access to cargo containers.
A shutdown of Melbourne's Toyota factory with its 2,500 workers was barely averted Saturday when a shipload of spare parts was brought into a unionized dock.
Imports of South Korean-made Kia cars have been hit hard with U.S. $19.5 million worth of vehicles and parts held up on the Melbourne docks.
Kia spokesman Rod Easdown said the holdup could cause problems for the company's launch of two new models in Australia later this week.
Automaker Holden GM has parts tied up on the docks and has begun air shipping engine parts, while Japan's Mitsubishi has also warned its local operations would be in trouble if the dispute drags on into May.
Australia's U.S. $2.3 billion wool export industry could be threatened if the dispute spreads to P and O, the chief rival to Patrick stevedores.
With wool sales due to resume Tuesday after a two-week break, any escalation could be disastrous for the industry, which is Australia's third largest export behind coal and gold, said the Australian Council of Wool Exporters.
Cotton exports also ``will start to hurt shortly,'' said Cotton Australia spokeswoman Catherine Payne.
``April, May and June are really big shipment months because we have just harvested. We forward sell all our cotton so you can imagine the impact if we cannot fulfill our contracts.''
The wine industry has also begun to worry.
``If the wharves did shut down, our wineries would shut down,'' said the export director of Orlando Wyndham group, Carey Weston.
It would be ``catastrophic'' for Australia's U.S. $487 million export industry if wineries were unable to fill orders for the coming high consumption season in Europe, Weston said.
Australian Federal Transport Minister Mark Vaile said up to 300 rural trucking jobs are at risk in the short term.
``Many of those affected are independent truckers who operate on small margins and large debts. Industries in rural Australia are at risk also,'' he said.
Overseas supplies of fish destined for tuna farms in South Australia and rice exports were also under threat, Vaile said.
Australia's tuna export market to Japan is on the verge of collapse, as 120,000 tuna destined for Japanese restaurants have only a few days of feed remaining on South Australian tuna farms.
Meanwhile, the longshoreman's unions in the United States are talking about a boycott of Australian meat and farm products, which would further harm that industry.
In addition, Rothman's tobacco company faces production delays because cigarette paper has been tied up on Sydney's docks.