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Christmas shopping: Strikes in Australian ports could spark supply shortages

Strikes planned at ports across Australia threaten to cripple imports ahead of Christmas, potentially leaving shelves stripped bare of toys, electronics, furniture and food. 

The Maritime Union of Australia has launched industrial action at Patrick Terminals sites in Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney, in a bitter feud over pay and working conditions for employees.  

Wharfies plan to strike in Sydney's Port Botany next weekend and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday in Melbourne for the month of October, which could spark major supply chain disruptions.

The mass walk-outs could lead to months-long delays on stocks ahead of the festive season in a double whammy for local businesses already reeling from the Covid pandemic.  

The Maritime Union of Australia has launched industrial action at Patrick Terminals sites in Brisbane, Fremantle, Melbourne and Sydney. Pictured: The Port Botany shipping freight terminal

Patrick Terminals CEO Michael Jovic described the protests as 'bewildering', with wharfies across the country on average earning upwards of $150,000-a-year. 

He says the company has been negotiating with the union since February 2020 and has held nearly 70 meetings to finalise a new enterprise agreement.

They have offered the union a 2.5 per cent annual pay increase for members over four years.

'We have bargained with the MUA for over 19 months and provided a very generous pay increase, guaranteed no redundancies and provided a commitment to preserving jobs,' he said in a statement on Monday.

'They clearly have no intention of reaching a deal. They just want to cause maximum damage to the company and the economy.'  

Mr Jovic said the strikes will have ramifications for all Australians in the lead up to Christmas, given more than 40 per cent of all container freight comes through Patrick terminals.

'The MUA's actions are frankly bewildering. It seems to have completely lost the plot,' he said.

Patrick Terminals CEO Michael Jovic said the strikes will impact Christmas stocks for businesses already reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic (stock)

'This blatantly aggressive strike action demonstrates that it has no regard for the suffering of everyday Australians who have felt the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, job losses and restrictions over the past 18 months.

'It seems that the union is trying to starve the Melbourne public of Christmas presents after all that Victorians have gone through ... it is truly mind-boggling.'

In Sydney, wharfies on a 35-hour roster earn an average $172,124 yearly salary and work less than 200 days a year, while those in Western Australia pocket an average $166,464 per annum for around 180 days of work.  

For the same number of weekly hours, Brisbane wharfies' wages are on average $153,880-a-year working 173 days, while Melbourne employees work less (162 days), and take home a $151,048 average annual salary.  

The MUA has been contacted for comment. 

The strikes could spark lengthy delays, possibly leaving shelves stripped bare of furniture, toys, food, and electronics. Pictured: Bare shelves at a Kmart store in July  

Meanwhile, massive issues in China could lead to supply shortages over the festive season, with Australians urged to do their Christmas shopping early. 

Covid's deadly Delta variant is hitting manufacturing plants across Asia causing another wave of lockdowns to close factories and send supply chains into crisis. 

Everything from furniture to toys and electrical goods is being affected with waiting times blowing out to a year for some products as imports face long delays.

'Even if you are buying it eight to 12 months out, the chances of it arriving on time is zero,' warned Super Retail Group chief executive Anthony Heraghty last month. 

'If it's not in the shed or on the shelf today, for Christmas this year I think the chances of it being in stock come that peak time are incredibly remote.' 

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