Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Gothenberg Reports Crash in Freight Containers Handled this Year

Blames Continued Problems between Operator and Union
Shipping News Feature
SWEDEN – The Port of Gothenburg has reported an unprecedented fall in container volumes for the first six months of the year, recording a 22% fall in the number of containers shipped, the biggest decrease in the history of the port. The decline was particularly noticeable in June with volumes down by 60%. Magnus Kårestedt, Gothenburg Port Authority Chief Executive, attributes the unprecedented fall in container volumes to the ongoing labour dispute, which is now into its second year. He comments:

“The consequences for Swedish trade are immense, as several services to key markets have been withdrawn, including direct services that are vital to both imports and exports. A great deal of freight has been shifted from sea to road, investments are failing to materialise, and jobs have disappeared.”

Volume figures for the first six months of the year apparently show how the dispute between the trade union and the container terminal, APM Terminals Gothenburg, is impacting negatively on container trade. Compared with 2016, volumes are down 22%. The impact was particularly noticeable in June – down 60% on June 2016. Preliminary reports show that the figures for July were also at an historic low. The upward trend has been broken and we would need to go as far back as 2001 to find a corresponding volume level. Kårestedt continued:

“It is painfully clear how the dispute has harmed the port and industry. We have had an incredible rate of growth over the years here at the largest port in Scandinavia, and billions have been invested to serve Swedish trade optimally.”

The dispute between the operator, APMT, and section 4 of the Swedish Dockworkers’ Union began back in May 2016. The dispute has resulted in several strikes, layoffs, and blockades and so far this year, the Union conducted an 8 hour strike in January, and a lockout that meant the dockworkers were shut out from the port without pay and that the terminal was shut down between 16.00 and 07.00 on all weekdays between the May 19 and June 30. On top of that, a massive cyber-attack that hit APM Terminal's parent company AP Moller Maersk at the end of June, severely affected operations across APMT.

Also during the lockout, APMT announced that it is to let go of 160 employees, more than a third of its workforce, from the Gothenburg operations. APMT reasoned that the decision came about after months of loss following the Union’s industrial actions. In May, APMT said that since the dispute began, the terminal has faced 14 blockades and nine days of strike action with abnormally high absenteeism rates of 25–30% daily.

The port highlights that the industrial action has continued despite the fact that APMT has signed and is a party to the industry’s collective agreement, adding that the situation has led the government to take action and set up an enquiry to review labour market rules. Magnus Kårestedt continued:

“It is unreasonable that a group of dockworkers in Gothenburg can block trade flows for an entire country in this way. National mediators have attempted to resolve the dispute on repeated occasions. APM Terminals has accepted all the proposals put forward by the mediators whilst the Dockworkers’ Union has rejected them. I welcome the government’s enquiry although legislation takes time and in the interim we need an immediate local solution that will allow the port to regain its credibility.”

Other freight categories at the Port of Gothenburg are continuing to increase. The number of ro-ro units shipped during the first half of the year totalled 291,000 – up 7% on 2016. During the first six months of the year, 137,000 new cars were exported or imported, a 40% increase on the corresponding period last year, due largely to the success of Volvo. Volumes at the Energy Port have also risen – up 7% on the first six months of 2016.