Freight forwarders urge Government to support recruitment of seasonal foreign port workers

Media Release
27 November 2020


The Customs Brokers and Freight Forwarders Federation (CBAFF) is urging the Government to give Ports of Auckland (POAL) the green light to recruit overseas seasonal workers to clear a container backlog.
CBAFF president Chris Edwards said an acute shortage of labour at the port, particularly in the key areas of crane and straddle operators and ‘on vessel’ positions such as lashers, was contributing to delays in vessels berthing and containers being removed.
“Having visited the port last Friday, with fellow members of the CBAFF executive, it’s clear the problem is not the current programme of automating the container terminal per se,” said Mr Edwards. “That seems to be flowing well, albeit with reduced volumes.
“However, the port is currently about 50 positions short. This has meant only a limited number of the port’s container cranes can be crewed on a 24/7 operational basis. We believe this is the crux of the congestion issue.”
Attempts by the POAL to recruit within New Zealand have had limited success. Few staff from overseas ports are likely to be available – with ports globally having to cope with increased container volumes due to a surge in consumer spending.
However, Mr Edwards said government assurances that skilled operators would be permitted to enter New Zealand and undergo quarantine, could make it easier to recruit, including among former port workers, seeking work or working in other industries.
“Recruiting and training people within New Zealand will take some months – the port estimate through to March,” he said.
“If POAL was able to recruit foreign seasonal operators now, they could work through the backlog, while a local labour force is found and trained. Certainty of government support to bring skilled operators from offshore would aid that process.
“This is an urgent matter and, given the significant cost to the economy it’s our view that the New Zealand Government should be assisting in this recruitment, much like the Australian Government is currently trying to do in its primary sector.”
While boosting skilled worker numbers at the port would ease congestion in Auckland, Mr Edwards said delays in shipping goods from Asia are expected to continue well into next year. Contributing factors include a global shortage of shipping containers and severe congestion in Asian trans-shipping ports, as well as industrial action in some Australian ports. This has increased journey times for container vessels and resulted in some opting to ‘blank’ some Australian and New Zealand ports.
“Those factors we can’t do much about, although easing congestion at Auckland would help,” he said. “Importers need to be working to a significantly longer timer frame than usual, liaising very closely with their freight forwarder, giving them as much notice as possible of their requirements and arranging to book space on ships as early as possible – three weeks before sailing is the absolute minimum.
“Businesses need to be prepared to order and carry more stock and to pay for shipping space very swiftly, so their freight forwarder can lock in bookings.”
For further information, call Rosemarie Dawson, 021 656 781 or email admin(at)