THE GRAINS industry will continue to monitor industrial relations unrest across the nation's ports that threaten to disrupt the export of the 2022-23 harvest.
Tugboat operator Svitzer is embroiled in a bitter dispute with the Maritime Union of Australia over workplace agreements, with the company arguing that union-imposed clauses, such union influence over recruitment, were restrictive, while the union has accused Svitzer executives of holding the nation to ransom.
Svitzer was on track to launch an atomic solution to the problem, with a proposed lockout of essential port workers set to take effect on Friday.
Instead the Fair Work Commission intervened at the 11th hour with a ruling that neither the union nor Svitzer could embark on industrial action for six months.
Svitzer plays a little known but important role in Australia's export supply chain in bringing ships in and out of port.
The company's planned lockout would have had a massive impact on exports, in particular the container sector and the threat alone was sufficient to cause some disruption with ship operators reportedly avoiding ports where they anticipated the planned lockout could have an impact.
Grain producer peak body GrainGrower welcomed the news of the FWC, saying it provided short-term certainty.
"The FWC decision to suspend Svitzer's proposed lockout that threatened to disrupt grain exports at ports across Australia is welcomed," GrainGrowers said in a statement.
The organisation said the planned lockout would have been a major disruption ahead the busy Christmas grain exporting period where new crop grain starts to be sent out to the world.
GrainGrowers general manager of policy and advocacy Zach Whale said Australia's grain export logistics were already stretched to breaking point.
"As an export-orientated industry, well-functioning ports are critical to supporting Australia's grain industry," Mr Whale said.
"We rely heavily on the nation's ports and shipping networks to transport grain to overseas markets, and we need all aspects to operate efficiently."
He said it was vital a solution to the dispute happened soon.
"It is critical industrial relations arrangements are managed to ensure goods can be imported and exported through the most appropriate port, avoiding delays and increased costs," he said.
Mr Whale said in a worst-case scenario the ongoing action could be permanently damaging to Australian grain exporters.
"This year, growers have been already hammered by wet weather, severely damaged roads and transport infrastructure, to have a shipping dispute on top of this, potentially stopping harvest exports is an unnecessary burden on Australian trade."
Mr Whale said while the focus was on the current industrial dispute, the broader issue of port reform also required urgent consideration.
"GrainGrowers' position is that if we are serious about improving productivity and driving economic growth, then government must work urgently to address a range of issues, including skyrocketing terminal charges, protracted industrial action and ongoing delays at ports across Australia."
The MUA said the FWC decision was a blow for Svitzer.
"After five days of holding the entire nation hostage, Svitzer's outrageous demands have been refused by the industrial umpire," MUA national secretary Paddy Crumlin said.
"They have demonstrated they are reckless and negligent in their management of a near-monopoly at seventeen Australian ports," Mr Crumlin said.
For its part Svitzer said the decision brought short-term stability to the industry.
"We welcome the certainty this brings to our customers and stakeholders," the company said in a statement.
It said in the interim all its shipping and port operations would continue.