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Work arrangements in container stevedoring

Labour market research report

This report was released on 28 April 1998. This study examines selected work arrangements and assesses their implications for the performance of container stevedoring workplaces. The effects on employees and users of stevedoring services are also considered, and impediments to achieving improved work arrangements are analysed.

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  • Media release
  • Contents

Two research studies were released today by the Productivity Commission: International Benchmarking of the Australian Waterfront, and Work Arrangements in Container Stevedoring. The first study finds that Australia is under-performing on the waterfront. The second shows how work arrangements constrain container stevedoring performance.

The two studies have involved detailed investigations and analysis covering a range of ports and stevedoring workplaces, and are based on extensive consultations over the past year.

International Benchmarking of the Waterfront

International comparisons of container stevedoring performance, for the same ships and trades, indicated that Australia's charges were generally higher, productivity lower and services less reliable than overseas. These disparities could not be explained simply by scale disadvantages.

The Commission found that, with the exception of bulk grain loading, other areas of traditional stevedoring also performed relatively poorly. And it found that marine service and port infrastructure charges were in total two to three times greater than at overseas ports, noting that only some of this reflects cost-recovery pricing in Australia.

Together with other problems in the transport chain, this under-performance not only results in higher direct costs to shippers, but also involves significant indirect costs from delays and unreliability which could be reduced.

Overall, the international benchmarking revealed significant scope for improvement in Australia's performance.

Work Arrangements in Container Stevedoring

Flexible work arrangements are especially important for Australian stevedores, given the variable demand for their services. The Commission found that despite some improvements in recent years, container stevedoring in Australia is characterised by a system of complex, inflexible and prescriptive work arrangements which constrain workplace performance.

Among the various work arrangements examined, three were identified as being of particular concern:

  • the 'order' of pick, which prescribes the order in which permanent, supplementary and other categories of employees must be engaged for a shift;
  • relatively high shift premiums and penalties; and
  • high redundancy provisions.

These and other work arrangements act in combination to inhibit productivity, reduce timeliness and reliability, and increase labour costs for a given level of activity.

The Commission noted a number of factors have impeded change to more productive work arrangements, including:

  • an adversarial workplace culture;
  • strong union bargaining power facilitated, in part, by the high cost of industrial disputes; and
  • limitations on competition in the industry involving high concentration of ownership and considerable barriers to entry, particularly through exclusive long-term leases to existing companies.

The Commission noted the Workpiace Relations Act facilitates change to work arrangements. Greater competition in container stevedoring would increase the pressures on management and employees to change work arrangements and improve performance on the waterfront.

Further information

02 6240 3330

Copyright, Foreword, Contents, Abbreviations, Glossary, Overview

1 About this study
1.1 Approach
1.2 Report structure

2 Container stevedoring in Australia
2.1 Industry structure and operation
2.2 Employment in stevedoring
2.3 Reform of stevedoring services

3 Workplace culture
3.1 Brief history of employee and management relations in stevedoring
3.2 Poor workplace culture
3.3 Sea-Land
3.4 Summary of findings

4 Roistering
4.1 Main features of roster system
4.2 Constraints on roster system
4.3 Reducing the impact of constraints
4.4 Shiftwork and occupational health and safety
4.5 Summary of findings

5 Manning
5.1 Gang sizes
5.2 Manning levels
5.3 Contracting

6 Recruitment, redundancy and contracting
6.1 Recruitment
6.2 Redundancy
6.3 Contracting
6.4 Summary of findings

7 Remuneration
7.1 Remuneration schemes
7.2 Productivity schemes
7.3 The 'aggregate wage' approach to remuneration
7.4 Hours worked
7.5 Wage levels
7.6 Summary of findings

8 Paid non-working time
8.1 Leave arrangements
8.2 Shift breaks, delays and unplanned absences
8.3 Minimum payments
8.4 Summary of findings

9 Enabling change
9.1 Need for change
9.2 Workplace-level factors
9.3 Industry-level factors
9.4 Improved legislative framework
9.5 Summary of findings

A Participation and visits

B Research method

C Labour tasks and the container stevedoring process

D Employee characteristics

E Factors affecting the loading and unloading of ships

F Reforms in the stevedoring industry

G Occupational health and safety

H Disciplinary measures

I The New Zealand experience

J Workplace negotiations, awards and agreements