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Port plan to avoid queues

FREMANTLE port’s two main stevedoring firms will switch to a complete booking system from March 1 in an attempt to remove the problems that led to last November’s blockade by truck drivers.

While industry stakeholders are giving the system, which they have signed off on, cautious support, another blockade could be held if drivers are kept waiting.

From March 1 only trucks with bookings will be able to enter the P&O Ports and Patrick terminals on Rous Head, replacing the current system of trucks either having bookings or taking their chances in a standby queue.

Standby queue delays led to the three-day blockade in November that cost P&O Ports about $100,000. It is not known how much the blockade cost Patrick.

P&O Ports manager port services Andrew Adam said 20 per cent more booking slots had been made available by doing away with the standby queue.

“We’ve increased to between 50 and 60 slots an hour,” he said. “However, those slots won’t necessarily always be on the times that people want.”

That hourly slot rate is understood to be sufficient to keep truck drivers happy.

One of the concerns raised by the road transport industry was the perceived lack of staff and equipment operating the terminals when ships were being unloaded.

Mr Adam said that was not strictly the case.

“But if we have a breakdown when a ship is being unloaded then that is going to reduce the resources available to load and unload trucks,” he said. 

Mr Adam pointed to some trucking companies’ practise of paying drivers by the number of containers they could shift, causing them to use the standby queue.

Transport Workers Union organiser Tim Dawson acknowledged that was still a problem but said the union had convinced some trucking companies to switch to hourly rates instead of box rates.

The complete booking system is the brainchild of the Port Operations Taskforce, chaired by Bob Pearce.

Mr Dawson said members would give the new system a chance.

“It’s incumbent on the stevedores to make it work,” he said. “But if drivers believe they are not geting the best service then they could go back to the blockade.”

Transport Forum of WA CEO Debra Goostrey said there was still a lot of work to do to make the system work.

“Forum is collecting data on an ongoing basis,” she said.

“There is a general feeling that this will provide benefits back to the industry.”

The complete booking system approach is in use in major eastern States ports.

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