The state’s Maritime Union have expressed concerns for the outcome of the Southern Ports Post-Amalgamation Review, following its release on Thursday, February 22.
Despite improved availability of port infrastructure and better decision-making being among the benefits deemed ‘partially achieved’ by the review, Maritime Union of Australia WA assistant secretary Jeff Cassar said he had not seen evidence of the outcomes described.
“I have had conversations with the workforce and the clients of all ports and I have not seen that at all,” he said.
“What I am seeing is an extra level of management, an extra level of bureaucracy.
“I have got some concerns about that review and it gives me the impression that the outcome was preordained.”
The Ports Legislation Amendment Bill was introduced in October of 2013 in a bid to improve efficiency, reduce red tape, and maximise the ports’ capacity.
The merger took place as part of the port governance reforms in October of 2014, with Albany, Bunbury and Esperance forming Southern Ports Authority.
Transport Minister Rita Saffioti first announced the review in August 2017 to assess whether the merger outcomes had been achieved.
With the benefits recognised, the minister confirmed there would not be a case to de-amalgamate Southern Ports.
The review also found higher governance standards and efficiency gains to have been a benefit.
Southern Ports Authority chief executive officer Nicholas Fertin said he welcomed the completed review and looked forward to working through the recommendations as part of the company's business plan.
“I would like to thank our staff, stakeholders and community members who participated in the review and the working group for completing it,” he said.
Despite the positive findings, the report did uncover minor problems including a deficiency in change management processes and a strong perception that the amalgamation had weakened links with the local community, particularly in Albany and Esperance.
Mr Fertin said Southern Ports was 18 months into a five-year long cultural change program, as reported by the independent working group which reviewed Southern Ports change of management and culture.
“We are focused on building a culture based on accountability, integrity, teamwork and a strong future,” he said.
“Southern Ports has undergone big changes since amalgamation in 2014 and we know this has impacted staff.
“The Southern Ports Post-Implementation Review showed Southern Ports is on the right track and that we should continue on our cultural action plan.”
Ms Saffioti said she would be working through the Board to ensure that the necessary work to continually improve was undertaken.
Mr Cassar said he had seen the relationship between local clients and the Port diminish as a result of the amalgamation.
“Some of the clients had been dealing with the Ports for decades and, over a period like that, you build up customer relationships and you understand the client’s individual needs and expectations” he said.
“Our members that have contact with the clients say that the clients have expressed their dissatisfaction with the way that things are since the change.
“We’ve received reports that service levels have dropped, that clients feel like they are not valued the way that they were when the ports were managed locally.”
Organisational culture issues were also found but were deemed to be isolated as opposed to systemic.
Mr Cassar disagreed and said the biggest concern was the culture of bullying.
“That [bullying] is going to be the focus of our attention moving forward,” he said.
“The review disingenuously, I believe, have stated that it was isolated.”
Mr Fertin said that when bullying was reported, it was taken seriously and it was investigated.
“Southern Ports has more than 200 staff across four locations,” he said.
“In the past three years, there have been 12 investigations into bullying at Southern Ports.
“Three of those claims have been substantiated and dealt with.
“We now know some complainants have initiated Worksafe investigations, which they are entitled to do, and Southern Ports will of course cooperate with the regulator.”
Acknowledging the impact of Cliffs’ plans to close their mining operations, Ms Saffioti said Southern Ports would face major challenges over the coming year, particularly in Esperance, and said the trade changes were outside its control.
“I look forward to the Port moving forward in close consultation with its employees, port users and the local community to meet those challenges,” she said.
Mr Cassar said a search was underway to find alternative operations.
“To be quite transparent, we’ve been exploring avenues and looking at potential clients for the Esperance Port and I know that Esperance Port management have been doing the same,” he said.
“To be honest, we’re really hopeful and I am not ready to accept that there is nobody to fill that void.”
The post-amalgamation review panel was chaired by Agricultural Region MLC Laurie Graham, with representatives from the Department of Transport and the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation.